COLUMN: A furtive glance at an old metal friend

This is my weekly column for the Sunday, May 30, 2010 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune. A shorter version of this piece was broadcast on the recent episode of 91.7 KAXE‘s “Between You and Me.”

A furtive glance at an old metal friend
By Aaron J. Brown

Having grown up around truckers and mechanics I am suitably thankful I don’t have to pay any sort of fee on all the axles in my garage right now. Unfortunately for my image in this testosterone-drenched manscape of the Iron Range, few of these axles are attached to anything other than colorful plastic wheels. Excluding the collection of generally functional lawnmowers and the typically safe, reliable family cars, the rest of our wheelage consists of what our three boys collectively refer to as “bikes.” The boys spend hours circling these contraptions around our driveway, yelling and laughing – usually with glee, sometimes with malice.

Some of these things really are bikes, others fall into the category of “novelty child-powered devices.” Many bicycles are actually tricycles, but not all trikes are bikes as others qualify as “big wheels.” I’ve heard others describe them incorrectly as “hot wheels,” baiting a lawsuit from Mattel. The operative word, however, remains “wheel.”

Naturally, with all of these bikes running all of the time, good old dad has some time to spend contemplating the universe between horrific pile-up crashes. Near the back corner of the garage, across from the boat motor I don’t know how to operate and underneath the shelves full of things I can’t properly identify, I see an old friend. Among the many wheels in this garage are two that belong to the bike my wife gave me as an engagement present after I totaled my “single man” bike on a bump on the Carey Lake Trail. (Hear that, Hibbing? Can you believe that ten years ago the Carey Lake Trail would fall into such disrepair? Good thing that got fixed, right?) This new bike and I didn’t break any records together, for speed or distance, but I did ride it to work everyday when we lived in town and took it out on the Mesabi Trail whenever I could.

I think it was 2006, the last year I rode the big annual August bike tour on the Mesabi Trail. I was leaving Buhl for the anchor leg heading into Chisholm. I was going faster than I should have at one point and did this crazy Dukes of Hazzard maneuver on a 90 degree turn. My bike tires skidded oddly across the pavement, bending one of the wheels. I managed to get the thing back to the finish line, probably damaging the wheel even more in the process. I returned the bike to its place in the garage, intending to bring it in for repairs soon, and the bike has remained in the same spot ever since. The tires are flat. A layer of dust covers the seat and frame. Of all the “bikes” in the garage, this mother bike is the only one that can’t be ridden.

For it was after this time that I first started getting busier at work, settling into a rural life that favored a dirt bike instead, then eventually occasional runs or walks, and then the loss of free time that comes with adding a set of twins onto a family that already includes a toddler. Time got away from me and my old friend paid the price, enduring cold winters in the garage without the reward of hard climbs and smooth glides.

I see you there, old friend. This summer you and I are going to the shop. Some person who knows what a wrench is supposed to do will do something, I assume it is magic, and your wheel will spin free. Your tires will fill with air and you will ride again. Just be prepared for the fact that these rides will probably be completed in tight circles, mostly within the bounds of the driveway. That’s how we roll now.

Aaron J. Brown is a columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune. Read more at or in his book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.”

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