'nuff said

"All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things."
Bobby Knight (1940 - )


Le Velo le Plus Rapide

By Lloyd Hawes

Jeremy did not understand what the faded letters on the door spelled out: Le Magasin Du Maudit. But, he recognized the dull picture of a bicycle painted on the aged wood. The narrow door was nestled between the Italian restaurant and the mini-mart in the neighborhood shopping area.

Something enticed him to open the door and enter the shop. Inside it appeared as if no one had shopped there in decades. Dust and cobwebs covered most everything. Through the dim light Jeremy saw a hodge-podge of books, bottles filled with some kind of liquid, pots, pans, and kitchen utensils. As he continued his scan, he also noticed a few wooden toys, bicycle parts hanging here and there, and one red bicycle resting against the wall. The musty smell reminded Jeremy of the mausoleum where his grandmother is laid to rest. A shiver went up Jeremy's spine.

The old man behind the counter was smoking a small cigar. He was about four and a half feet tall and had an emaciated look about him. A few strands of thin hair rested on the man’s scalp. Smoke slowly rose up from the cigar and circled around his head on its way up to join the cloud hanging at the ceiling. His deep black eyes unnerved Jeremy.

"What you want?" the old man's voiced rasped.

Jeremy heard his voice crack, "I thought this was a bike shop.”

"It is! Don't let looks fool you. Lookin' for a bike, eh?" The old man said.

“I don’t recall ever seeing your shop here before, " Jeremy said.

“Do you want a fast bike or not?" The old man asked.

"Why yes. I race, but I don't think you have the level of bike I need."

"How would you know what kind you need?"

"Well, I need something fast so I can win. I'm tired of losing."

"Considering the crowd you ride with, some people would be very happy to come in second. It's not like it's a career for you or anything."

"I want to win for a change. After a couple years of trying I deserve at least that!"

"Pretty presumptive aren't you, Jeremy, my boy. Thinking you're owed a win. Ha. Well, if that is what you want, I think I have the bike for you."

The old man shuffled out from behind the counter and went to the one bike in the shop.

Jeremy looked at the bicycle. The words "Le Vélo de Diable" were painted in a rich gold on the blood red frame. He wondered what this old screwball was trying to sell him.

"This is the fastest bike ever made. No one can beat it. Lift it. See how light it is," the old man said.

Jeremy walked cautiously to the bicycle. He grabbed the top bar and lifted the bike effortlessly. It seemed to weigh nothing. He turned the pedals. Smoothly and quietly the chain moved around the chain ring and gears. The drive train was so smooth and quiet, Jeremy had to strain to hear the click click click of the gear cluster.

"Try it." The old man whispered. "Test it out."

“I’m not going to ride this heap of junk,” Jeremy said.

“You want a fast ride. How do you know if you don’t take her out for a spin?” the old man said.

Jeremy grabbed the handlebars and led the bike outside. He climbed on the bike and pushed off. He felt a surge of electricity flow through his body. The bike moved effortlessly.

The bike was smooth and responsive. He would just think of shifting or turning and it was as if the thing responded to his thoughts. A subtle flick of his wrist and Le Vélo would quietly shift gears. A quick look at a corner, and the bike would steer into the turn.

Jeremy noticed the speedometer. It showed 30 mph. He thought the thing must have been broken. It sure did not feel like he was moving that fast. But, as smooth as the bike handled, he was not sure.

He looked up just in time to see he was about to run through a stop sign. A big truck was crossing the intersection and within a split-second calculation, Jeremy could see himself crashing right into it. “Oh, my God,” Jeremy gasped as he grabbed the brakes. The bike stopped so suddenly that Jeremy almost went over the handlebars.

Back at the store, Jeremy was still shaking as he asked the old man how much for the bike.

"Fastest bike on the planet. Told you. You'll beat that Craig guy for sure." The old man said. "How about two hundred bucks?"

"Are you sure?" Jeremy asked. "That's seems awfully cheap."

"It ain't cheap. That's a great bike! Two hundred bucks. Take it or leave it,” the old man said.

"Do you take checks?" Jeremy asked.

"From you? Why sure."

On his practice ride the next day Jeremy rode along Lakeside Blvd. Watching the speedometer at 20 mph, he timed himself against the mile markers. Three minutes. It’s accurate. As he pedaled, Jeremy thought of Craig Raanderson: co-worker, fellow cyclist, nemesis. While he dreamed of being the fastest amateur rider, he knew he has never won a time trial, a century, or a multi-day tour. And, it was all Craig’s fault. Jeremy thought, “I’m always second behind that hack of a software programmer, but no more.”

He focused on Craig, with his good looking smile, his friendly demeanor, his cycling prowess. How dare he always congratulate the losers for a good race. Jeremy could also be that friendly, if he always won.

Glancing at the cycle-computer, Jeremy saw 25 mph on the display.

He felt strong, powerful, and invincible. He pedaled harder. The longer Jeremy pedaled, the more he felt a drive build up for him to push even harder.

30 mph displayed on the speedometer. Jeremy had never ridden this fast without going downhill. "I'll beat Craig in the next race for sure," he thought to himself.

40 mph.

He was breathing harder, but felt that he could push even more. He was obsessed with going faster, an internal drive to beat Craig. He laughed as he thought of Craig being dumbfounded by his new found speed.

45 mph.

The trees and houses along Lakeside were speeding by in a blur. Jeremy could only see the yellow line on the road and the numbers on his speedometer. He was breathing was becoming harder. Perspiration was running down his brow. But, he felt indestructible. The faster the bike went, the more power Jeremy felt fill his body. "I am going to crush him!" Jeremy howled.

Lakeside Boulevard followed the shoreline southward. It dead ended with a big wall made of railroad ties. Jeremy saw the wall coming up and tried to stop pedaling. His legs continued to pump on the pedals. His chest was heaving, struggling to get enough oxygen into his lungs. Every breath was causing him to over- expand his lungs. He felt as if the fibers in his chest muscles and lungs were tearing.

50 mph.

He couldn't stop and the wall was getting closer. "Stop!" Jeremy yelled. He clutched the brake levers so hard he swore blood was coming out of his fingernails, but the brake pads did not engage.

His legs were on fire. He was gasping deeply, his body begging for more oxygen. The wall was quickly filling his field of vision. He was going too fast to turn. And where would he dump the bike anyway: Over the embankment? Into the lake? Run right into the wall? None of these options looked good. A view of himself in a hospital bed flashed through his mind - injuries. Can't win a race from a hospital bed. All sense of supremacy had left him. He just wanted to stop pedaling. Pain in his legs. Head dizzy. Wall straight ahead.

"Jesus Christ!" Jeremy yelled in terror as he closed his eyes. The brake pads gripped the rims of the bike and his legs stopped their pumping. The bike stopped one foot from the wall. He quickly dismounted and sat in the middle of the road.

Sitting there, staring at the wall, and panting like a goldfish taken out of a fish bowl, Jeremy replayed the mental film of what had just happened. Bike go fast, legs don't stop pedaling, quick stop, need air. And then it dawned on him. He was going to blow away Craig at the race on Sunday. Stopping wasn't as important a s going fast. However, he did want to go to talk to that crazy old man for help adjusting the brakes.

He swore he was in the right place. Jeremy told himself, "I'm sure the door was right here." There was no door. No store. No old guy. Only bricks separated the restaurant from the quickie mart.

Jeremy went to a phone booth and grabbed the phone book. What was the name of the store, Magazine Maldrot? No, it was a foreign language. Spanish, French? He searched under bicycle shops, then general stores. Then he went through the whole store section in the phone book.

Nothing looked familiar. "I must have the wrong location," he thought.

After a couple hours of unsuccessfully trying to find the store, Jeremy gave up looking. He figured he mentally spaced on the exact location. Besides, he needed to get ready for the race. It was the Breast Cancer 200 kilometer one day fundraiser. Craig has won it three years in a row. "Not this time." Jeremy thought.

As far as Jeremy could tell, he simply needed to learn how to control the speed of the bike and not push very hard until the end of the race. He would figure out how to stop after he crossed the finish line in victory.

The days up to the race were excruciating to Jeremy. He so wanted to gloat about his new, super-fast bike, but he kept silent even when Craig needed his help solving a programming problem.

Race day had arrived and during the first half of the race, Jeremy easily kept pace with the lead pack. Craig, of course, was in the lead setting the pace. Jeremy fought the feeling in his legs to pedal faster. He wasn't ready to go extremely fast, yet. He wanted to lay in wait and then pounce at the last kilometer. With 100 kilometers still to go, he felt a huge amount of energy fill up his body. It was hard keeping his body in check; preventing it from sprinting away from the group. He knew if he took off too soon, he'd self destruct before the finish. He needed to bide his time.

And, then Jeremy saw the sign: kilometer 199. The moment had come for him to make his move. Holding himself back for the last 100 kilometers was excruciating. He felt his legs get jumpy and his impatience would soon be relieved. GO!

Jeremy raised his butt off of the seat, and started pumping his legs as hard as he could. The other riders in the pack did the same. But, Jeremy took off way ahead of the group. Even Craig could not keep up.

Jeremy's legs were burning from lactic acid buildup, he was gasping desperately for air, and 55 displayed on his bike computer. A quick glance behind, and he saw Craig half a kilometer back, fading in his pursuit. The finish line was 100 meters ahead. The crowd was cheering. It felt as he imagined.


"Jesus Christ, I'm going to win!" he yelled.

The brake pads seized the wheel rims, causing the bike to stop. Jeremy cried "NO!" He could not unclip his cycling shoes from the pedals before losing his balance and falling over.

Craig Raandersen went sailing past him and broke the winner’s tape at the finish line.

Jeremy lay under his bike in shock looking at the finish line as the rest of cycling group whizzed by him. His true love, never to be touched, sailing away from him. Several minutes later, Craig came over and offered his hand.

"Dude, I thought you had me. Bummer you didn't win. What happened?" Craig asked.

Quietly Jeremy said, "I don't know. Maybe I wanted it too badly. Congrats on winning… again."

"Thanks, dude. Good race."

Monday morning, Jeremy was at work. He walked by Craig’s cubicle. It was empty, as if Craig's presence was never felt by the cloth walls. Jeremy asked the guy in the next cube, "where's Craig?"

"Didn't you hear? The US Cycling team picked him up. He's going to the tour. Y'know, the Tour de France. I guess you'll be the number one rider around here, now that Craig's gone."

"Yeah, I guess so." Jeremy walk away with a dry little smile.