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Shannon’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Luck Bike

July 4, 2012

If karma worked the way pop culture suggests, I must have done a number of very bad things and one good thing to my bike equipment lately. I’ve had a string of unfortunate circumstances that culminated in a situation that was both very lucky and spectacularly awkward.

It started out innocently enough. When I participated in the Memorial Day parade, I rang my bell so hard and so much that it didn’t quite sound right afterwards. Whenever I tried to pass someone, it would make a faint ‘ting’ and then get stuck. Of course, when I would test it later, it’d be fine.

Then, last week, riding my bike from the Metro to yoga, I realized my front light was gone! Now, people’s lights go missing fairly frequently; they’re one of the more commonly stolen pieces of equipment. But I didn’t expect my front light to ever be stolen for one simple reason – it was impossible to remove. I quickly realized that assumption wasn’t quite right. Rather, it was impossible to remove the light from the bike and have it still be useful. The thief broke the part that attached the light to the bike, leaving a jagged edge of plastic and no way to mount the light on another bike. Because they didn’t take anything else, I suspect it was an act of random maliciousness. I wouldn’t have minded as much if they stole it. Then at least someone would have a new light, perhaps even someone who needs it more than I do.

But the most absurd and complicated problem was also the least obvious to a bystander. Last Friday, after I had just replaced my bell and light, my combination cable lock stopped working. This wouldn’t be so bad except that it was still attached to my bike, on a public bike rack. Having just finished a refreshing cup of frozen yogurt in Bethesda, on my way to a friend’s party in DC, I was horrified to realize that my lock would NOT come open. The first few minutes were calm, as it usually took a couple of jiggles to get it free. My jiggling soon became more and more frustrated. I tried resetting it, spun the numbers around and around, but to no avail. I called my mom, who had sympathy, but not a lot of helpful advice. I even called the Montgomery County Police Department! The dispatcher, who seemed exasperated with my query, said that officers didn’t have the tools to deal with it. When I said, “If I break it myself, who do I tell so I don’t get arrested for stealing my own bike?” she said, “Ma’am, we can’t keep you from doing that.” She also seemed to ignore my request to take note of this incident somewhere. I just wanted to know that in the event of my arrest, there would be some proof of my innocence.

Having exhausted my options and lacking the tools to deal with the situation further, I hopped on the Metro and made my way to my friend’s party. I’d deal with the whole mess the next day.

This was a tree in the next lot over from our house, the day after the storm.

Of course, I probably would have made a very different decision if I knew what that night would bring. As anyone in the Mid-Atlantic region of the US knows, one of the worst thunder and windstorms in a long time swept through the region last Friday. Known as a derecho, the storm was somewhat like a straight, slow moving tornado. My friend who drove me back from the party dodged downed trees and misplaced port-a-potties as we drove down a major highway. And during it all, my bike was outside, on a tree-lined street.

The next day, I put off getting my bike for as long as possible. Unsure of whether or not it would be in good enough shape for me to wheel it to the subway, I decided to drive the car. As I walked up the block, I grimaced and squinted my eyes a bit. But soon enough, I sighed in relief. It looked exactly how I had left it, albeit rained on. Knowing it wasn’t a lost cause, I then went about freeing it from its current state.

Earlier that day, I had made an appointment with a locksmith, but then my mom suggested calling my car club, since I also get bicycle support through them. Unfortunately, they didn’t contract with any company that could perform the service. Fed up, I walked to the nearby hardware store and surveyed the potential implements of destruction. As my cable was too thick for the bolt cutters to fit around, I bought a $15 hacksaw.

Back at my bike with hacksaw in hand, I played with my phone and looked around at random people for a good five minutes. I had parked my bike on Bethesda Row, one of the tonier shopping areas in the D.C. suburbs that’s always crowded with pedestrians. Nope, I wasn’t looking suspicious at all.

Sick of being bored, I finally got out the hacksaw – grazing my hand in the process – and went to work. It was hard, made all the more difficult by the hot weather and weird looks I got. A couple passersby asked me, “Do you need help?” I’d stammer something a broken lock, end with “thanks, though” and look away before anyone asked any more questions. Perhaps they thought if I was a thief, I’d be startled or ashamed by the attention and run away. A group of women eating at the sidewalk table nearby watched me until I explained the situation with slightly more grace.

After a good 20 minutes of sawing, twisting the cable, and rubbing paint off of the bike rack by mistake, I broke through the cable. I nearly cheered in surprise; the women at the table actually did.

My bike finally free, I removed my U-lock, took the offending cable lock off, and hauled the whole thing back to my car. I appeared to either be a happy owner relieved to be reunited with her bike or the world’s most awkward thief. I am never buying a combination cable lock again.

What’s the most awkward situation you’ve ever been in with your bike? How has your luck been lately?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Nancy L. Seibel permalink
    July 5, 2012 7:37 pm

    Oh gosh! What a tough – and funny – experience. I hate to tell you this, but I had something so similar happen with my key-locking U-lock. I rode to the garage by my office, locked up at the bike rack, no problem. In the evening, big problem. I could not get the key to turn no matter what I did. I tried putting some chain lube into the lock mechanism (the only thing I had with me) but no luck. Neither could the building engineer. He tried cutting it with bolt cutters, but I had done such a good job locking it, and the lock itself was so tough, the cutters did nothing but scratch the rubber covering. Defeated, I had to leave the bike over the weekend. At least it was inside. When I returned Monday, I called the engineers who were ready to tackle it again. Et voila! The key turned smooth as butter. We all had a big laugh about it. They thought maybe the chain lube worked on it over the weekend. My take away? Every 6 months, spray some lube or graphite into the lock mechanism.

    • July 7, 2012 4:03 pm

      Thanks for the heads-up on the U-lock! Not a single person suggested spraying some lube in there, which may have helped. As a combination lock, I suspect one of the pins broke, but it would have been worth trying.

      • July 7, 2012 4:59 pm

        Never thought about pins breaking in combo locks. I have 2 of those, one quite old. I have been lucky in not having trouble with either of those.

  2. bicyclebug permalink
    July 6, 2012 10:24 am

    I shouldn’t probably use this as a cautionary tale. My the key on my ulock seems to require a bit more jiggling everyday and I dread the day where I push my luck (using the key to open packages probably doesn’t help either though). Will take Nancy’s advise on this.

    • bicyclebug permalink
      July 6, 2012 10:24 am

      *I should probably…

    • July 7, 2012 4:04 pm

      Definitely pay attention when it starts sticking! I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, so I wasn’t exactly surprised when it happened. Unfortunately, I had avoided thinking about what I was going to do when it happened…

  3. July 6, 2012 1:49 pm

    @Kevin let me know if it helps. I used a silicone lubricant on the offending lock once I got it back home. It’s been fine ever since. Of course I was afraid and locked/unlocked it multiple times before actually using it again!

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