Honest, I just got back from a good ride and felt I had to tell you.
Back in 1994, I was walking down a dock at a marina in Stuart, Florida. With hands in pockets and nothing on my mind, I saw a small folding bicycle to which was taped a scrawly written sign reading: “For Sale — $39”.
Yes, said the well-tanned captain who emerged from the innards of a nearby sailboat, it belonged to his former wife. At different ports along the U.S. east coast and throughout the Caribbean, she’d used it to go buy groceries or other errands. Eventually, she wearied of the nomadic life, and split. The tone of his voice suggested that ridding himself of the bike would help erase her from his mind.
His sense of urgency wasn’t lost on me. I handed him two twenty-dollar bills, thanked him, and somewhat awkwardly rode away on a steed I barely knew. After returning to my car, I unhooked the latch that kept the two halves of the bike together, folded and flattened the two wheels against each other, and hefted the bike into the trunk.
The bike was made by Peugeot, the French auto maker. There was no instruction book, but if there had been, I suspect the summary would’ve said: Treat me reasonably and I’ll always get you there. All steel and solidly welded, it reminded me of a likable runty kid I went to school with whose strength was feared by even the biggest bullies.
I took to the Peugeot instantly and with confidence. After cleaning and lubricating the front wheel and crank bearings, it was good to go. The three-speed shifter, tucked inside the rear hub, performed flawlessly with gear ratios just right on one end for cruising, on the other end for grunt work, and separated by an in-between all-purpose sweet spot.
There were two utilitarian touches, a spring-loaded platform over the rear fender for hauling light cargo, and an aftermarket odometer that showed the bike had been ridden about eighteen hundred miles. Designed to provide only what’s necessary, the bike immediately struck me as a model of simplicity and practicality. After all this time, it still does.
At no time does it seem as if there is the bike, and there is me. Instead, the bike, compactly hunkered down on 20-inch wheels, is an extension of my own physical self, the handlebars being part of my arms, the chassis seeming to blend into my torso and legs. Every time I move a muscle, the bike is ready to respond.
It’s been my companion in exploring towns along the way, and the many streets at home and at our Florida house. Except for the folding latch and the brakes, nothing has needed adjusting. Neither has anything broken except the odometer that gave up after totaling out at more than three thousand miles.
Here’s the point: Likely mixed in with your daily life are a few exceptionally well-designed and well-made items that work extremely well. They can be as large and complex as a vehicle, or as simple as a broom, tool, piece of furniture, tent, firearm, or saddle. They can even be wearing apparel such as a coat or pair of shoes.
You’ve come to know them as items that regardless of cost or age, rise above the plasticky, badly designed, cheaply made, overly complicated, or relatively untested. They are always there to fulfill a need or a desire, or support an emotion.
Consider them as logical extensions of yourself, indicators of your values and abilities. Their value lies not in terms of quantity, but rather quality and dependability. That’s saying a lot considering the relatively fragile nature and complexity of many of today’s supposedly useful products.
Most important, cherish and care for them. Not only are they priceless, in this age of near instant obsolescence, they are rarely replaceable.