2 years ago, I had a bit of luck (albeit disguised at the time), in a year distinguished by its general, almost unrelenting. Shittiness. Looking back on it, it was probably the best thing to happen to me in 2016.

My bike was stolen. 

At the time I was working as a solicitor in Darwin. On arrival from Leichhardt in mid 2012 I bought myself a hybrid Merida to get around. Darwin is blessed with a fairly good network of shared foot/bike paths connecting the city, Palmerston and Casuarina. Along with a culture of mutual, ‘troppo’ accomodation of interests between pedestrians and cyclists. Ring your bell when passing from behind. Sweet. I’ll move to the left a bit. No drama.

My choice of bike was pretty utilitarian. Something reliable and ‘sensibly priced’ for the commute in past the ocean and casino from well heeled and historic Fannie Bay where Captain Ross Smith and his crew touched down in their Vickers Vimy, on 10 December 1919, to win the Great Air Race from England to Australia (and £10,000). Followed in succeeding years by Charles Kingsford Smith, Bert Hinkler, Francis Chichester, Amy Johnson, Lorres Bonney and, in June 1937, Amelia Earhart (shortly before she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean). Adventurers all. 

Sensibly priced. But you get what you pay for. What really excited me, even then, was the idea of cycle touring. Slow and relatively unconstrained travel and exploring simply ‘being’ over long distances. The ‘freedom of the road’ and the fantasy of ‘escape’ if you just pedal for long enough and far enough. Like a meditation. I’m a keen hiker and I’ve never felt more alive and purely ‘happy’ than when out on the trail by myself, with sun and wind or those first almost ephemeral snowflakes on a cold day bearing down on me. But the world is round and the reality is that you can never make it to the edge, much less past it, however hard you try. Forrest Gump stopped running in the end when he realised this. What matters, though, is thinking that you can, and that gets me every time. ‘This time it will be different’. In 2012 buying a more ‘fit for purpose’ bike seemed like an extravagance. In my mind the exemplification of such extravagance was a Surly Long Haul Trucker. The bike I ‘really’ wanted.

Sometimes, if you’re going to jump, you need a little push.

That push came on my return from Christmas holidays in January 2016. I had left my bike in the rack at the ‘secure’ carpark in my work building. Unlocked. Because no one’s going to get past the security gate, wander up the ramp and walk right around to the other side of the building where the bike rack is. And then notice the bike is not locked and opportunistically take it. Right? Wrong.

Unable to immediately take in my changed circumstances I spent half an hour wandering around the two levels of the carpark thinking that some officious building functionary may simply have ‘moved it’. Many years ago I wrote off the only car I have ever owned. The engine of my 1982 Honda Prelude crumpled up to the dashboard like an accordion. In my shocked (and mercifully under the limit) incomprehension I still tried to turn the key in the ignition as though the terminally becalmed engine would turn over with a confident, reassuring ‘thrum’ and take me home to bed and away from that inconvenient intersection. And, in similar vein I thought, ‘it (the bike) must be here somewhere’ and even ‘maybe I didn’t even leave it here’. Kubler Ross Stage 1 denial.

I rang the Building Manager to enquire about the activities of officious functionaries over the Christmas break and was assured they did not include moving a blue Merida. Much less that such functionaries existed.

As at January 2016 I had moved into Darwin’s original and most insalubrious apartment block. The studios all have spa bath/shower ‘ensembles’ (if that is the word) next to the sleeping area suggesting an older, more ‘commercial’ use of the premises. It has a ‘happy endings’ massage place near the residential foyer euphemistically called ‘Chill Out Lounge’ (men and women welcome). That said, my fellow residents were pretty friendly, uncomplicated and very chilled out. And maybe not coincidentally! It was also a 300m walk to work. No commuter bike required.

In April of that ‘annus shitibillus’, after my post-Christmas push, I jumped. I wandered into Cycle Zone on Cavenagh St looking for that purpose built touring bike. So thank you, thief (may you burn, notwithstanding, in the second lowest circle of Dante’s Hell - the secret 11th circle reserved for bicycle thieves). Modification of a mountain bike wasn’t really on my radar. Cycle touring as ‘escapology’ most definitely was, as a revelation around this time painfully confirmed an intuition that eroded and ultimately destroyed a friendship I valued dearly (maybe the architect of ‘all that’ will one day meet Mr Bike Thief, on his way down to the (ultra ultra secret) ‘really’ lowest 12th circle of Dante’s Inferno). That ‘car’ (as it were) was also stuck at the intersection with a busted, accordioned (it’s a word - look it up and use it in Scrabble), engine and no amount of turning the key in the ignition was going to take me home. I had previously looked at/dreamed about the Fuji and Kona Sutra bicycles. And, 2 long rope pitches down, its CroMoly steel frame glinting in the sepulchral gloom at the bottom of my crevasse/wallet (and winking coquettishly at me) was the Surly LHT. At just a few hundred dollars more than I ‘really’ wanted to pay.

As befits a push to a reluctant jumper (think the terrifying water obstacle at Tough Mudder) I had no choice in the end. At least not in Darwin. The LHT it was, and even then, it would need to be ordered from Melbourne.

Fast forward a month to receipt of a wonderfully light, well balanced bike, and a 120 kilometre test ride around Darwin Harbour to the Mandorah ferry via Channel Island Road and Berry Springs (con una birra fredda at the hotel), the last featureless 70k a slog in early dry season heat.

Come October of that year, ‘annus shitabillus’ had really lifted its game and a lap of the harbour wasn’t going to cut the cathartic, Forrest Gumped, mustard. A multi day getaway was required. Taking myself hostage I bought a bike bag, packed it up and transported us all to Alice Springs for a 6 day, 400k return trip along the undulating Larapinta and Namatjira Drives, stopping at Standley Chasm, Glen Helen, Ormiston Gorge and Redbank Gorge. Featuring a breathlessly starry 3am ascent to the first spring blushes of a cold dawn atop Mt Sonder in the Western Macdonnell Ranges. And a solid,  honest headwind into Alice on the last day. 

And so, in January 2018, in part due to 2016 and its downward trajectory in 2017, I am back in more comfortable (climatically and existentially) climes in NSW. Gainfully unemployed. But like Mr Micawber in David Copperfield, I feel something will ‘turn up’.

In the meantime. I have a touring bike.

Starting Monday 29 January, I am getting the old team back together for a tour from my childhood home in Wollongong to Melbourne (with conditional approval for Adelaide depending on how I pull up).

I have said (nearly) all I want to say about bike thieves and other low characters.

However, a post about bike theft would not be complete without reference to 2 movies that deal with the subject beautifully. And the lengths that people will go to to recover their trusty spoked and geared companions. Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 classic, The Bicycle Thieves and Wang Xiaoshuai’s sweet and engaging 2001 film, Beijing Bicycle. 

See you on the road.


Views: 310

Comment by PeterT on January 28, 2018 at 12:32pm

yummily written, thanks!

Comment by Neil Alexander on January 28, 2018 at 1:09pm

Great rant! ;-)

Would love to hear more about the logistics of the 6-day tour of Larapinta and Namatjira Drives. 

Comment by Niall on January 28, 2018 at 1:58pm
  1. Writing is basically non-violent venting Neil ;) As to my Central Australia trip I basically followed the itinerary described in Cycle Traveller http://cycletraveller.com.au/australia/bike-routes/northern-territo.... Day 1 in cold drizzle to Standley Chasm - which is remarkable. Take wet weather gear. I thought it wouldn’t rain ‘because desert’. Rained all day. Day 2 to the very comfortable camp at Glen Helen Resort. All the cons with bar and restaurant. Days 3 and 4. Redbank Gorge and Mt Sonder. You will ‘never’ have a clearer view of the Milky Way. Day 4 night back at Glen Helen. Day 5 Ormiston Gorge (Australia’s Yosemite) and Ellery Creek Big Hole. Day 6 back to Alice. Grest trip. There is a link to my pictures in the comments to the CT story (one pic is NZ!) https://www.icloud.com/sharedalbum/#B0DJ0DiRHhBTTO. Bike packed up really well in a Torpedo bag. No dramas taking it around at all. 
Comment by Neil Alexander on January 29, 2018 at 3:49pm

Thanks for the link, really enjoyed the pics, too. I've been to most of those places but only once, when I was 17, which was... a while ago.

Did you get to Alice by bus? What does your Torpedo bag look like? I think I may need one.

Comment by Niall on January 29, 2018 at 4:48pm

Thanks Neil. I flew to Alice out of Darwin. Really straightforward putting the bike in oversize and picking it up. The Toroedo bag has a section for the front wheel but could maybe do with more padding. I stick some cardboard box panels over the rear derailleur. I actually have some pics! 

Comment by Niall on January 29, 2018 at 4:50pm


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