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  • Mark Smith

Beautiful Blue Curse


Ten years ago I was walking through a town in Normandy when I came across a vide grenier, which is the French term for “garage sale” (the literal translation being “attic emptying”). Such events tend to cast a pall over my soul, but this time I couldn’t resist the junk pile, amid which I immediately spied a metallic blue Jacques Anquetil mixtie, circa 1968, in apparently fine condition. A piece of scotch tape announced the price: 6 euros. I laid out the cash. Any other course of action would’ve been folly, I reasoned.

I can’t recall the details of how I got it home—on the train and metro. The back wheel was warped beyond saving, so I had the local bike guy replace it. Seventy euros but it worked. A few months later I wanted to change the tire on the rear wheel but couldn’t get it off. New wheels, it turns out, have wider axels than old wheels. “Ok, so how did you get the new wheel on?” I asked the mechanic. I’d nearly had a hernia trying to spread the chain stays, and failed. “I just put it on,” said he, a French version of Jethro Bodine. Whereupon I concluded that the bike guy is STRONG…and dumb. How was I going to change the tire when it eventually went flat? I have never answered the question. The same tire is still on the bike today.

My wife used the blue bullet for a year or two, but there were frequent complaints. “It makes a lot of noise,” she said. “It’s broken,” she said. “I sound like a one-man band going down the street,” she said. Each time I’d look it over, discover a rubbing fender or chain, and adjust things with a pair of pliers.

Then my daughter adopted the sacred machine. A full-blown fashionista, she liked the retro look and was willing to accept the noise for a while, but then she too started complaining. Repair, complain, repair, complain, and so it went. I had to concede that ol’ Jacques, looked at critically, was in fact pretty shabbily built, and it weighed a ton. Years passed.

A few weeks ago Clara called to say Anquetil had been “vandalized.” She’d left it on the street overnight—for two weeks, she later conceded. Someone had removed the front wheel, inexplicably leaving it perched atop the bike seat. Could I come fix it?

I packed up a tool kit and rode across town at sundown. On the street corner Clara indicated, the Anquetil lay askew, a wounded soldier, its front fender twisted into a pretzel. But 10 minutes later I had fixed it again. I stood back, looked it over with an arched brow, and wished I’d never seen the thing. But I had seen the thing. It was too late.


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