One-Person Bike

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

I got a one-person bike today. I keep calling it a one-person bike because I’ve spent the last 15 years riding around on “The Fastest Bike In The World:” a metallic purple 1966 Schwinn Twinn Tandem bike.

What with the Montrose L station closed for a year, I figured I should find some alternative transportation. As much as I like the tandem, I can only take people yelling “you lost someone” so many times. Also, it is equipped with a Tire Of Perpetual Flatness (-2 Dexterity.) Also-also, the thing is not the most efficient piece of machinery in the cyclesphere. It weighs, like, 5000 pounds. Also-also-also, one of the pedals keeps falling off. So I bit the bullet and got a one-person bike.

Before it begins its long, solitary life next to the hot water heater, I thought I’d share a tandem story with you. There are many to choose from: The time we ran into a tree. The time we ran into a wall. The time we ran into that other tree. The time we ran into an old lady. The time we got hit by a car. The time we got arrested for trying to catch a duck… they’re all good stories, but here’s my favorite tandem story and it happened about a year ago…

I was between homes at the time (sleeping on my brother’s sofabed… for a year) and had no place to store the tandem. As always, it had a flat tire, so I locked it to a bike rack on the corner of Kenmore and Clybourn and left it there… for two months… OK, four months. I was busy, dammit!

Lo and behold, I eventually bought a condo and had myself a nice cozy basement to store bikes and boxes and dead bodies pretty flowers. So I went to collect the old Schwinn Twinn… but… I’m such an idiot! Who leaves a bike outside for four months! It was gone.

After I panicked, threw up, had a waffle and collected my thoughts, I tried to formulate a plan. Maybe I could put up posters! I mean, this isn’t a dime-a-dozen one-person bike. This is a metallic purple velobeast. Unfortunately, it turns out I’m too lazy to put up posters. I’m not too lazy, however, to post on Craigslist.

Within hours I started getting responses: “I saw that bike sitting there. I was wondering what the deal was with that.” And, “If you find it, I’ll give you $50 for it.” The good news: there are obsessive people out there who notice a bike locked up on a corner. The bad news: people on Craigslist are weirdos.

I did get some good leads, though. One fella told me to post on the Chicago Stolen Bikes Registry, which I did. They said I should call the guy who handles abandoned bikes for the city. (Yeah, there’s a guy who handles abandoned bikes for the city.)

GUY WHO HANDLES ABANDONED BIKES FOR THE CITY: I saw that bike. I tagged it as abandoned. Usually the owner has 2 weeks to move it, after which we cut the lock and donate it to charity. [(The bike, not the lock.) Also, if you’re wondering, Working Bikes is the charity. -ed] Two weeks passed, but the bike was gone. I figured you had just moved it.

A couple weeks later I got a strange e-mail. “There’s a purple tandem for sale on eBay. You might want to check it out.” Check it out I did, and it looked kind of like my bike, but mine didn’t have fenders… or fancy black grips… or weird low-rider handlebars. Still, it’s quite a coincidence…

I put a thrilling plan into effect wherein I would buy this almost-my-bike. It was only selling for $100. Did it really matter if it was mine or not? Now let me tell you something about those eBay people who come in at the last minute with a stupid $2-higher-bid: they suck. [Umm. I'm one of those people. -ed] I lost the auction and, so it seemed, my last chance at reuniting with my beloved piece of crap bike.

As a last resort I decided I’d e-mail the seller and buyer, tell them my story, and offer either of them the final bidding price to sell me what seemed to be my bike, more or less. The buyer wanted nothing to do with me, but the seller was slightly intrigued.

SELLER: Do you have the registration number?
ME: Regi-whos-i-whatter?
SELLER: Well, do you have any photos?
ME: Give me a couple minutes.

The photo my mom scanned and sent to me

The photo my mom scanned and sent to me.

I called my mom and asked if she had any photos of the tandem. I’ve had this thing since I was 12 and my mom takes pictures of everything, so it’s not surprising that she had some photos of the time my dad and I rode it up to Wisconsin over 10 years ago. That trip had some stories of its own, including an out-of-control downhill collision with the biggest pile of wood chips in the tri-state area, followed by the inevitable flat tire. Now, a lot of moms have trouble turning their computer on. My mom’s awesome. Within fifteen minutes she had scanned and e-mailed the photos to me. Fifteen more minutes later, I received a call from our old friend the eBay seller.

SELLER: It’s definitely your bike. I can match up rust marks and scratches and everything.
ME: Do you have any idea where the handlebars and fenders came from?
SELLER: It was like that when I got it. A friend of mine said he found it in an alley.

OK. A cynic would be skeptical, but I actually believe this guy. He was super nice and wouldn’t accept any money when I offered it to him for giving me the bike. “It’s not mine to sell.” Apparently the guy who won the auction was none too pleased.

Here’s what I think happened: Douchebag with great taste in bikes cuts the lock and tries to ride away. Unfortunately, the bike has a flat tire. Douchebag doesn’t have time for this crap. He chucks the bike in the alley. Enter Weirdo Who Likes Fixing Bikes. He tricks it out with fancy fenders, handlebars, even a new tire. He then gives it to Nice EBay Man to sell. And, well, you know the rest. Were it not for that damn flat tire, I may not have ever seen The World’s Fastest Bike ever again.

I posted a note on Craigslist telling this tale and thanking the Chicago biking community for helping retrieve the Twinn. Most stolen bike stories don’t have a happy ending. Even fewer end with the owner getting his bike back and fixed up for free.

Now I’ve got it stashed away in the basement. What a jerk.


I’ve always loved the fact that you ride around solo on a tandem bike. I think it makes you look like some beautiful tragic romantic character. Forever missing someone to sit on the back seat of his bike.
Of course, I’ve never mentioned this to you because it sounds very depressing.
Congrats on the new ride.

I think it’s a wonderful story…and you tell it so well! It reminds me if another amazing bike story I read about many years ago in an old publication called “Your Mom” or something. It was about a Chinook.

~ Aric Jacover