The other night I was riding my bike home from work when I started to hear this clicking sound. I couldn’t tell what was wrong exactly, but every three or four pedals, it was this noticeable click. One block away from work, two blocks, I started building up some speed and the clicks came at shorter intervals. Part of me thought, OK, something’s definitely wrong, like I know it’s not supposed to be making those sounds, but what was I going to do? It’s not like I had any tools on me, and even if I did, I wasn’t really in the mood to start pretending to be a bike mechanic on the side of East Fifty-Fourth Street.
So I started changing the gears rapidly, like maybe that would fix it. You want to something to click about? I’ll give you something to click about. Only, and this is totally speaking in retrospect, but I wish I had just left it in that one gear, because after a few turns of the shifter, the pedals jammed like the chain got stuck. I looked down, and it actually came apart, one of the links broke, and I watched the line of metal wind its way through the derailleur and then drop onto the floor.
This all happened within maybe ten seconds. It was like I was watching it, but I couldn’t really comprehend what was going on. My eyes saw the chain leave the bike, but my legs kept pedaling futilely, with nothing to give them any resistance, it was just this hollow motion, all while my brain simply could not make sense of the visual, the tactile, finally my momentum came to an end and I had to get off the bike.
I walked back and found the chain. For some reason that stupid, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” saying ran through my head, and it got me really annoyed. I had just worked a double, my back was killing me. All I wanted to do was get home and watch some TV before I passed out for the night, but now I really was going to have to pretend to be a bike mechanic on the side of the street.
The thing about bike chains, you touch them once and that’s it, that’s the last thing you can touch until you have a chance to get to a bathroom sink. Whatever bike chain grease is made out of, it gets everywhere. And of course I didn’t think about that, I just picked up the chain, and then next thing I knew I had grease on my shirt, on my backpack. I looked down and my left hand was in my left pocket looking for keys or something I might use as a tool.
I wasted twenty minutes looping the bike chain back through the system, and then I tried my best to hammer the chain back together with my bare hands. I stood the bike back upright and took off. Unfortunately, my fingers weren’t able to do the trick like a bike chain tool does, and so it was click, click, and the whole thing fell apart almost immediately.
It was close to midnight. I didn’t know what to do. Finding a cab that would let me shove my bike in the backseat would have been a long shot. Then again, I was kind of far from the subway, and at this time of night, I had no idea how much time I would have spent waiting for a train. I finally decided that I’d sit on the bike and push myself home, like a scooter.
It was one of those ideas that sounded great in my head, but halfway across the Queensboro Bridge, way too late to turn back and figure something else out, I realized what a strain this was on my system, my chest muscles felt like they were supporting my arms holding onto the handlebars, pushing my torso outward while my legs took turns alternating between standing on a pedal and pushing off the ground like I would a skateboard.
And I woke up this morning and my right foot was all swollen, like I could feel my actions last night aggravating muscles that I probably don’t use much while I’m walking or running, but I had stubbornly kept at it, refusing to let any more of the night pass than it already had. And now I’m sitting here looking at this bike with no chain, totally useless.
I love riding a bike because I’m free to go anywhere in the city without ever having to spend any time waiting around for buses or trains. And usually it’s great, I have my commute timed out to the minute, I save a lot of money on not having to buy a monthly MetroCard. But every once in a while something like this happens, something breaks, or it starts raining, or the bike lane on the bridge gets shut down for repairs. And then I’m stuck, I have to figure something out, I can’t take a cab, I can’t even run. In these moments, no longer is my bike a key to freedom, it’s an anchor, weighing me down wherever I happen to be, I’m mercilessly bound to the present.