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Cherishing personal cycling chapels

February 22, 2013

Americans don’t have to travel far to experience extraordinary chapels packed with cycling memorabilia.

Of course the European shrines will make any pro-cycling fan tingle with awe as she stands inches from jerseys worn on the backs of historic heroes like Coppi, Bartali, and Anquetil. Visiting one of these shrines also provides a restful break from the hours of waiting and traveling to watch a Grand Tour.

In addition to Notre Dame des Cyclistes in a French village north of the Pyrénées which celebrates the Tour de France and reportedly protects a bike that slaved over the first Tour de France route, Madonna del Ghisallo welcomes travelers near Lake Como in Italy. Nuestra Señora de Dorleta at the Puerto/Alto de Arlabán greets visitors in Spain’s Basque country.

But right under many cyclists’ noses lie their own personal chapels: their basements, garages, or wherever they store their cycling tools and mementos.

orange water bottle

The collection doubtless includes a handful of bikes. The brown Olmo that escorted her to her first race in Central Park where she wondered if she could hang on to the back of the field. The Diamond Back with which she alternately labored and sailed over 4,500 miles with forty pounds of clothing, tent, sleeping bag, and extra tire to see the country from Seattle, Washington to Bar Harbor, Maine, and in whose water bottle cage rests an orange bidon with the barely legible phrase “eat to ride, ride to eat.” A newer road bike, paint still shiny and tires at full pressure. Her first mountain bike, now converted into an errand machine with a rear rack and panniers, on which she learned in the company of a group of women she’d just met at a clinic how to negotiate a sand slick on the trail.

The bikes live with the mixed fragrance of rubber, oil, and sweat from equipment. The pile of punctured tubes languishing on shelves. Multiple pairs of partial-fingered cycling gloves. An old hard-sided suitcase that acts as home to wrenches, allen keys, spokes, black-streaked rags, gunk-coated splayed heads of old toothbrushes, and rings of new cable bought for ambitious maintenance plans but still unused.

It’s worth pausing in that basement or garage for a few minutes, just like standing on the cool stone in Madonna del Ghisallo. Both are perfect places to recall and give thanks for the wonderful places and people encountered on a bicycle.

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From → Essays

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