The boy’s name was Cole. He was quiet, as 14-year-old boys are wont to appear in front of adults, with puppy-dog eyes and the whisper of a mustache. He’d been trying to play it cool in front of his dad, but I could tell that he had already decided that he was buying my bike.
One of Cole’s best friends had gotten into mountain biking, his dad told me, and Cole had been riding around with him on an old hardtail. But he was ready for a real bike—something he could take to the bike park, do jumps on, use to explore the thick, rocky woods that border our town. Something like my carbon, 29er Specialized Enduro. It would be the biggest purchase Cole had ever made. He’d saved up for it all summer, mowing lawns. He had carefully counted out 13 one-hundred dollar bills and put them in an envelope.
I was just as eager, or so I thought, to sell this bike. The Specialized had been a great race bike. But for the next season, I wanted something a little quicker handling, a little more of an all-rounder. I had a new model picked out, and the money from this sale would help me buy it.
And yet, as I rolled the Enduro out to meet Cole and his dad in the parking lot, I felt a pang of loss. In a moment, I remembered all the things I’d done on this bike: Beat a world champ in a bike race (yeah, for real). Come within 15 seconds of winning national championship title in my age group. Had the most glorious, miraculous, breakthrough season of racing. Came to believe that I could win. Came to believe that good things could happen for me. As I handed my bike over to Cole, and watched him put his hands on the grips that had been rubbed slick by my own hands over so many rides, I wanted to take it back—say wait! I changed my mind—and yet I had the sense that some cycle had been completed. I said a silent “thank you” to this bike, and wished it well in its next life.
I’d sold bikes before this one: bikes I had ridden many more miles on, bikes that had been there much earlier in my cycling journey. And it’s always emotional—not like saying goodbye to a piece of equipment, but to a trusted companion. There’s no other moment when you more clearly understand what a bicycle means to you than the day you sell it. When you hand it over, you can’t help but recall everything that happened to you on this bicycle, and maybe some of the things that happened in between, too. A bicycle embodies the person you became while you rode it. On all those rides, you imbued that bike with a soul.
But the day to sell always comes. We have to make room in our garages (and our budgets). One of the hardest bikes for me to sell was YOLO, my Yeti ASR5c. Years ago, it was the first nice mountain bike I ever bought, and I’d blown twice my budget to attain it. But as friends switched to 29ers and 27.5 bikes, I couldn’t help but acknowledge that its 26-inch-wheels were outdated.
I sold YOLO the Yeti to a guy who had just started mountain biking. It was the first nice mountain bike he’d ever bought. From time to time this new rider would send me photos of my bike—once with a new drivetrain and wheels, another time on a trail the two of them had just conquered together. I was thankful to him for doing that. This is another way I know that bikes have some spiritual, immaterial element that transcends our ownership of them—because it brings us joy to know they’re still loved, to know they live on.
The fall after I sold the Enduro, a good friend who coaches the local NICA high school league told me he’d seen it at practice. Cole is now racing and, from what I hear, loving it. He isn’t yet bothered that the Enduro isn’t the ideal tool for XC races, but if he keeps on, one day he’ll want something different. And then maybe the Enduro will find a third life.
And me? A few weeks after I sold my bike to Cole, my new bike arrived. It was powder blue and perfect. I ran my hands over its glassy curves. I set the seat height, put the right amount of air in the shock and fork, threaded my pedals onto the cranks. I put my name sticker on the top tube. I took some photos of it for Instagram. I stepped back and admired it. But it wasn’t my bike yet.
So I rolled it up the steps and out the back door. I threw my leg over the top tube. I started pedaling. I began the magical, mysterious cycle all over again.