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THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS

I used to race track a lot on a borrowed track bike, a beautiful old Italian-made lugged steel Benotto with a chrome fork. He has never ridden anything else with such fine workmanship. The Benotto and I  raced in lots of track events together. Eventually, I decided that since I was racing track every week and doing publicity for the track, I probably liked it enough to get my own track bike. But what kind of bike could justify returning the trusty old Benotto to the warehouse?

My dream for a track bike was an alumnium Klein track bike--light, stiff alumnium, responsive Klein geometry, and beautiful paint that would stay that way for years in the safety of the velodrome.  The only problem is that Klein didn't make and still doesn't make track bikes.  Undeterred, I bugged people at Klein for a year, and eventually approached Gary Klein himself at Interbike.  My colleagues at Chain Reaction were amused by his plans and said Gary would dismiss him out of hand.  They were shocked when it took him 20 seconds to get Gary to say he was building them.

"So when are you making track bikes?" I asked Gary, sort of bluffing that he had inside knowledge which he did not.  Gary and I both went to MIT, so for us, smalltalk is about engineering stuff like bicycles.

"I just made one last week for the team."  Is Gary bluffing, too? Lombardi Sports has some good track racers and Klein is their sponsor, so maybe.

"Is it going to be a product?"  A reasonable question for a dealer to ask at Interbike.

"I hope so.  We ordered a hundred pairs of dropouts."  This sounds like a commitment to a new product, and an important detail that proves Gary really had been thinking about it.  We talked some more about the geometry of the bikes and how they would really be slightly modified road frames just to get something to the team right away. This is all I needed to race at Hellyer, which is not a particularly steep track requiring extra bottom bracket clearance, and

I left Interbike thinking it was a done deal.  Either it would soon be a product he could order, or a pretty easy special favor since the first version wasn't going to be too different from a road frame.

A month or so later, Klein announced it was moving production from Chehalis, Washington to the Trek empire's mother ship in Waterloo, Wisconsin.  Even producing regular products was going to be difficult for a while, and the product line was in for some major changes, too. The pre-fab carbon fiber seat stays the industry was going to was a bad omen, because you can't just weld them a little different for track spacing.  My dream died.

But you can't hang around a velodrome without running into some other bike industry luminaries.  The president of Bianchi USA also races track, and his pet project was the Pista Concept track frame, stiff lightweight aluminum, and a stealthy matte black.  My old team in California had enough trackies to make it seem like a bike sponsorship would give Bianchi pretty good exposure for this new product, and so they were offered a pretty good deal on the frames.

The deal was so good that my California teammates ordered the bike for him while I was in Singapore.  (Sort of like my absolut teammates order teh halia for me nowadays--it was as hard for them to imagine me refusing a track bike as it would be to imagine me refusing teh halia.)  It seemed unrelated at the time, but soon after they ordered it, SARS broke out.

Finally, it arrived.  One of the first frames Bianchi shipped.  It seemed unrelated at the time, but this was about when war with Iraq broke out.

It was waiting for me when I came back, having spent a couple months in my teammate's cubicle. It took three weeks for me to bother to pick it up.  It seemed unrelated at the time, but it was a gloomy, rainy day in San Francisco when I drove by my teammate's office to get it.

It waited even longer in its bubble wrap while I continued to race on the Benotto.  It seemed unrelated at the time, but my annoying roommate decided to kick me and my bikes out, so

It took three months for me to bother to buy parts for it.  Nice Campy stuff.  No wheels then, because the wheels were going to be fancy Campy wheels and my business was kind of slow.  It seemed unrelated at the time, but the software industry in California took a turn for the worse every time he thought about getting some parts for it.

Its first race was at Colorado Springs on borrowed wheels.  They won a prime, free breakfast at a local restaurant run by triathlete

Back in California, every race on that Bianchi was an exercise in humiliation.  I had all sorts of other excuses, which made this string of poor race results seem unrelated at the time.

Finally, I decided that, not having a single fast-twitch muscle fiber in his entire body, track racing wasn't for me.  After I crashed my car and totalled it (which seemed unrelated at the time), my reaction was that it was now going to be easy to move to Singapore, so that's what I did.

I sold the Bianchi on eBay.  It seemed unrelated at the time, but the buyer had trouble getting PayPal to let him make the payment.  So the boxed bike sat in my apartment for an extra week.  I was anxious to get rid of it.

The Prince of Darkness (caged) The gloom has been lifted

Finally, the payment was worked out, and the delivery driver came to pick it up.  Moments after he left, rays of sunlight shone through.

The bright sunlight was clearing out the bad luck contamination the bike had left behind.  Now all the events that seemed so unrelated at the time, and even the recent election of George W. Bush to a second term, all had a clear cause: Bianchi, Prince of Darkness.

I was off to Singapore, and perhaps my luck would change.

But the Bianchi had its final say.

During most of the time I owned it, the bike was covered with a USPS team T-shirt signed by George Hincapie, Antonio Cruz, Robbie Ventura, and Kenny Labbe.  This probably kept some of its bad luck from wreaking even more havoc with me and the world at large.

On the one day I actually wore this autographed T-shirt, to cheer on Antonio Cruz climbing Genting Highlands during the Tour de Langkawi, I slipped on some moss on the road, and scraped up my knee and elbow.  Unlike my other bikes, the Bianchi never had a chance to give me road rash until then.  Its final insult, delivered from 9,000 miles away.

 

Comments or criticism can be sent to gingerman@teamabsolut.net
 

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