Features | Adventure: “It rides, doesn’t it?”

A Craigslist bike ad leads the Daily’s Aaron Vansintjan to face off with an enterprising crone

Biking, to say the very least, soothes my soul. When I mount that self-propelled horse of chipped-paint steel, that ingenious piece of design that satisfies all my carnal desires, I feel like a red-eyed supersonic colossus amongst mere mortals, sent down on earth to show humanity what’s what. My road rage kicks in: I curse, I spit, I snarl. I am an animal, a tiger set loose upon a crowd of starved children after being cooped up like an unethically-raised chicken for months.

When I arrived in Montreal, getting a bicycle was at the top of my list. And in my search for a bicycle, which was long, arduous, and painful, so many adventures happened to me that I couldn’t possibly describe them in the space provided. There is, however, one story I’d like to impart on the reader.

Let’s put things into context. After two unsuccessful weeks, I was sick and tired of searching for a bicycle. I was deprived of a crucial outlet for anger; I wasn’t thinking straight. It was the perfect opportunity – and the worst-case scenario – for a bad Craigslist ad to trap me, to coax me into buying something I didn’t want. And lo and behold, up popped an ad saying something like “bicycle for sale: $75.” There was no photograph.

I email the guy. The guy turns out to be a woman. I ask her what kind of bike it is. She says, “Whadya mean what kinda bike! It’s a bike!” I ask her to send a picture. She says, “I don’t have a digital camera! Whadya need a picture for!” This should have set off an alarm bell, but in my horrible state of mind, I don’t hear it ringing. So I give her my phone number, she calls me with directions, and the adventure begins.

The scribbles in my notebook tell me that I took the Orange line to Sauvé, that I walked down Sauvé past a couple of high schools and gas stations, until Boulevard l’Acadie, after which I turned right into a grungy housing complex. I’m telling you what my notebook says, because I don’t really remember how I got there, or how I made my way back to civilization. I just remember the horrible fact, the embarrassing, undisputable fact of what happened to me. Maybe my mind repressed the information, so that I could never make my way back there ever again.

So I’m in this suburban complex, I find the address, go up the steps, I ring the doorbell. My mind is full of wonderful, positive thoughts. I’m so excited to get the best deal of my life, and what’s more, I’m already planning my bike ride back home. A small lady in her late fifties with badly straightened hair and a tan opens the door. I tell her I’m there for the bicycle. She tells me to go downstairs and that she’ll open the garage door for me.

I enter the garage, my eyes adjust to the gloom, we exchange pleasant chat: the weather is rather nice, I’m going to McGill, her daughter – or was it her son? – goes there, I ask about the bicycle, she points me to the corner of the garage. In the corner, I see a rusty piece of metal covered in nauseating colours: pink, purple, lime green, and a faded fluorescent yellow. A quick glance would tell any amateur that this bicycle is, in fact, not rideable.

“This?” I ask.

“Of course! You see any other bicycle?”

I look at her face, I try to see if she’s joking, but it’s too dark to make out her wrinkly features. I walk up to the wreck, and decide that it seriously redefines my definition of “bicycle.”

I give it a thorough rundown. Brakes? Not functional. Tires? Shredded, and flat. The right size? No. I turn the handlebars; they seem to work alright.

All the while she’s talking to me, telling me about how her son used to ride it, and how he doesn’t use it anymore (I wondered why), and it’s a real shame, and her daughter has a bike, and her daughter’s not using hers either, but she’s not selling it, and she looked on the Internet and found out that this bike, this bike, it costs two hundred dollars! And she says that I’m lucky – she was going to charge more, but she figured she’d sell it anyway, what the hell, and if I didn’t want to buy it, she’d sell it for more to the next customer. Seventy-five dollars, it’s a real good price, really.

And as I’m checking the gears (rusty beyond use), my mind’s gears are doing some turning too. I’m thinking, “I want a bicycle.” I’m thinking, “I don’t want to take the metro home.” I’m thinking, “Maybe this is a fixer-upper, maybe I can make something of this!”

I complain, of course. “The tires are flat, and it’s kind of rusty.” She answers, “You can pump them, there’s a gas station around the corner! You can clean it up!” I respond, “This isn’t really the kind of bike I’m looking for.” She replies, “What more do you want from a bike? It rides, doesn’t it?” I try not to be too mean, and say, “Sure it does, but this is a mountain bike, and I want a road bike.” She catches me off guard, saying, “But this can go on a mountain and on the road.”

I fall silent. Clearly there’s no arguing with this master of deductive logic. I’m about to refuse the bicycle, I hesitate, and she steals the moment to point out the good things about the bicycle. “Its cheap! And look at the colours! Don’t you kids call those colours “cool?” What more do ya want!” I drag the bicycle to the light, I brush away some cobwebs, and the fall sunshine somehow makes the bicycle look more appealing. I think to myself, these colours are kinda cool, and in my blind desire for a bicycle, I do something outrageous. Yes, dear readers, I buy the bicycle.

As I’m rolling it down the street, doubt pushes its way into my mind. I give doubt a shove. I climb on the bike, and the tires are both absolutely flat. I pedal a few metres, give up, and roll onward. By the time I arrive at the gas station, my mind’s in turmoil. “What have I done?” I think to myself.

It costs a loonie to turn on the air pump. I curse, go inside the stop-n-shop, buy a Snickers bar, then I go back outside, put in the coin, and the air pump starts humming. The front tire pumps up fine. I put the air pump to the back wheel, and nothing happens. I try again. And a third time. Now I’m getting frustrated, and my hands are trembling.

I try to pry off the tire to check if it’s a flat. The back tire comes off easily, as it’s shredded completely, and the inner tube has a huge gash. At this point I’m furious, and my pent up rage finally bursts out. “Fuck!” I shout, and I grit my teeth, grab hold of the tube, flex my huge muscles, and rip that goddamned tube up. I’m foaming at the mouth, my head’s about to explode, and I’m about to set my teeth into the tire to rip that apart too, but I have a better idea: I pick up the bicycle and throw it in the ditch. I sit down on the grass and exude a heart-rending sob. I take out the Snickers bar, glare at it, and I eat it.

With the chocolate comes reason, and I think about my options. It appears that my only choice is to go back to that harpy to plead, beg, and hope I don’t die from shame. So I drag the bicycle out of the ditch, and lug it back to her place (I put the tire back on the wheel so she can’t see that there’s a missing tube), cursing all the way.

I leave the bicycle outside the garage, compose myself, wipe the foam off my mouth, go upstairs, and ring the doorbell. She opens the door, and is surprised to see me. I tell her that I decided I didn’t want the bicycle, that I’d rather save the money to buy a new and expensive one that suits my needs, that I’m sorry and that I’ll never, ever, do it again.

She argues, and she’s good.

I tell her I’ll give it back to her for $70. She objects. $65, I say. She objects. $60, I say. That old crone, once again, objects. She says something about me being irresponsible. $55, I say, even more desperate.

She pushes her luck, and objects. She’s testing me, and I fail the test.

“Fifty dollars! Fine! Fifty dollars, please!” She’s shocked. She looks me deep in the eye, and sees the despair. She’s shaken to the core, she feels guilty, she’ll probably go to church more often from now on, and she gives in.

Fifty dollars it is, and I feel as if a weight, a terrible weight, just about the weight of a bicycle, has been lifted off my back. Our business is concluded, her day has ended well with a $25 profit. I can’t help feeling like a child in a Grimm fairy tale, abandoned, tricked, and trapped in a devious world. I make my miserable way back to my residence.