Sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s just a thing, it can’t feel, it can’t think, it doesn’t know me. However, I know it, I can feel the way it behaves, and I can sense its personality. The logical, rational side of me knows there’s nothing more to my injection of spirit into the machine than my own personalization of it. Yet, I can’t help but wonder about that intangible aspect of magic that seems to exist within each bike. To me, a bike isn’t born when it’s built, it’s born underneath its rider. It’s born through experiences that include blood, sweat, and yes, even tears.
Several times now I’ve taken a step back from my bike stand, camera in hand, looking at a new creation and wondering what it will give me, what we’ll go through together. Usually a couple of weeks later is when I feel the machine wrestling itself into this world underneath me as I finish making all the subtle tweaks and adjustments that bring us together. Once finished I resolve to it and myself that I will never change a thing...the height of the saddle, the angle of the handlebars, the positioning of the hoods...it will always remain the same. I will never blame the bike for my inadequacies while aboard it, for now all responsibility belongs to me. If I’ve taken my time in helping this “thing” into the world, it will do its job for me every time I ask.
When I took my Chili Con Crosso frameset out of the box for the first time I took a deep breath as I absorbed its aesthetics. I knew I had to get this build just right. Taking my time, I poured over every detail as if I was earning its trust. I was proud of the finished build and worried about the first time I’d scratch that beautiful paint job. I began to train with the bike and eventually I raced it. This bike would only see gravel events under my ownership; therefore I set it up for such. I would outfit it with a stiff gearing ratio for those long flat, tailwind sections I knew would eventually come. I’d exploit its low weight throughout the consistent climbs of Minnesota, Iowa, and Kansas. In fact, my first race aboard her found me winning the “King of the Mountains” competition and taking a second place overall in a race in Southern Minnesota. I felt I could really fly on this machine. Little did I know we were just getting to know each other.
That same season found me battling what seemed like hurricane conditions in the Trans Iowa. The concept of “the first scratch” was far behind me as I jammed a sturdy stick through the legs of the fork in an effort to clear the mud from my wheel, allowing it to spin freely once again. I rode my Chili through a powerful downpour that lasted approximately 15 hours before I realized the race could not, nor would it, continue under these conditions. I, or should I say “we” pulled out of that race before the director called the event. I felt terrible for leaving the race. I felt awful for stopping when the bike was still performing flawlessly. I had failed, not the bike. I vowed to win back its respect in Kansas.
The spring months of 2010 moved on and I was poised to race in the Dirty Kanza 200, a gravel monster that had taken down men and women much better than I. I swung my leg over the Chili naïve to what awaited me 130 miles down the road. Searing heat had Joe Meiser and I lying on the side of the road desperately trying to hang onto not only our sanity, but at the time what seemed like our lives. Pushing on in heat that had my frame hot to the touch, while barely managing 4 mph, I would later come to know that something special was happening out on that road. (Read Eki's account of that event here...part 1...part 2) My Chili was still there, carrying me through it, serving as my life line. The Chili Con Crosso will forever be one of the most beautiful bikes I’ve owned for more than just its looks.
Two years later I’ll still walk over to the hook my Chili frame hangs on and think about where that little nick came from, or touch the marks near the crown of the fork where I cleared the mud from my wheel in Iowa. I don’t walk away until I’ve placed a hand on her toptube and muttered, “Thanks”.
Joe, Eki, and the Chili Con Crosso at the finish of the 2010 Dirty Kanza 200...