Fatal Attraction

Death Machine

Following slovenly Saturday where I did basically nothing for the whole day, today has become a bit of sprightly Sunday, being busy from the get-go, with the Death Machine taking a prime position.

The Death Machine is, of course, the nickname I give to my Performer recumbent bicyle.

It gets that name because the bike feels so unsafe, the feeling while riding it is that death is imminet.

It’s no exaggeration.

Riding the bike is a frightful experience.

And I crashed the Death Machine badly around this time last year, fracturing my leg and causing permanent damage to my knee.

Getting the Death Machine was a stroke of luck.

I’d always fancied a recumbent bike since I saw one flying along the roads when I used to walk from Fujisawa Station to work at Keio University Shonan Fujisawa Campus a decade ago now.

I was already getting into cycling and when I moved to a job downtown the following year, was greatly encouraged by Kiwi John.

I was riding a Dahon Route folding bike at the time, but Kiwi John had a bad back and rode a recumbent.

He was super cool and his bike was even more impressive, giving me even greater cravings to get a lie-down bike.

Upon checking out catalogs and prices, though, the recumbent dream pretty much vanished.

Sports bikes aren’t cheap, and recumbents are at the pricier end of the sports bike range. Most were close to 300,000 yen at the entry level and well past 500,000 yen when considering a carbon frame. Even secondhand, a recumbent generally commanded a price over 200,000 yen.

And so the years passed.

Then, a couple of years ago, I saw a bike posted on Facebook for 50,000 yen. It was in Nagoya. Didn’t matter, I promised to pay immediately, booked a bus for that night (a Friday) and planned to ride it home to Tokyo when I picked it up the following morning.

I got less than 50 meters. I would topple over and fall with every few strokes. It was clear that I wouldn’t be riding back home. I wouldn’t even make it to the nearest station a few hundred meters away.

I eventually got the bike home (wrapped in garbage bags because I didn’t have a rinko bag needed to carry it on the train). And I destroyed the bloody chain in the process of carrying the bike back to Tokyo.

Almost destroyed my marriage when I eventually did get home.

Even the endlessly patient Mrs. Kangaeroo was peeved at my latest waste of money. And doubly so when I immediately needed to put it in for repairs and upgrading of parts that cost as much as the bike had.

It took a while to track down the maker, which used to have a branch office in Yamanashi Prefecture, but now how only its home base in Taiwan. George from Performer was fantastic, providing advice on the bike, the necessary new derailleur and videos on how to ride it.

Still, all the advice in the world and watching videos was not really a great help in learning to ride the bike. I repeatedly crashed and struggled to get a feel for riding it….hence the Death Machine moniker.

It took literally months to learn how to ride. I didn’t help myself by riding narrow tracks with climbs and turns, all of which are not friends of the recumbent bicycle in general.

Eventually, though, I got to feel at ease….well, maybe not that far. I felt that I could get around on the bike.

A much-needed good luck charm for cycling safety from Aso shrine in Hamura.

Rumor has it that recumbents ride faster on flats than road bikes. That hasn’t been my experience. I can get a decent speed out of the Death Machine, but well short of what I can get on La Cangura, my road bike.

I guess the recumbent is a little more comfortable than a road bike on long, straight roads. But only in the sense of being less strenuous while being in a lying position.

What’s more, recumbents seem to annoy drivers even more than a regular bicycle, if that’s possible, and also seem to bring out the most competitive side of every other cyclist, who wants to outpace the weird contraption that may have overtaken them.

So, they can’t turn, can’t climb, aren’t fast, inspire nearly everybody to want to throttle you and are truly dangerous. Why the fuck do I ride it? I guess it’s some fatal attraction. The recumbent attracts attention, and doubly so because I have decked it out in tiger stripes and ride with tiger-themed attire, so I am feeding my constantly craving ego. And the thrill of truly feeling at death’s door. It’s an deniable feeling. I wonder whether it stems from addiction issues?

Lots of addicts I know have an affinity for cycling. I guess it’s the repetitive nature of the rotating pedals and quick fix of endorphins from the exercise? I’m sure there are definitive studies somewhere, but my own hearsay affirms this. The late Robin Williams, a famous addict was also an avid cyclist.

Who knows? One thing for sure is that I enjoy riding the Death Machine, especially if I can overtake a roadie, which I can sometimes do with the aid of gravity. And I even bear riding with a knee brace to placate Mrs. Kangaeroo and the doctor.

So, when I die on the Death Machine, bring up this blog post and know that there were some fond memories.