F600: Story of a Bike
American Matt Caretti was the winner of the 2006 Tour d’Afrique Race, writes haiku and is currently involved in Zen monastic training in Korea.
It is about the bike. With much respect to Mr Armstrong, who was readily supplied with a shinny new bike at a whim or fall, a cyclist’s steed in the Tour d’Afrique must be a durable singularity. It must, in short, be able to withstand the nearly 12.000 punishing kilometres of Saharan sands, Didagalgalu rock and Antipdal asphalt. If one is to complete the ride, he or she must consider carefully the bike that will traverse an entire continent. Or two.
It seemed only logical to cross one continent while preparing to ply the length of another. But my jaunt across the United States was to determine both my own mettle and that of my rig. While the aluminum frame seemed a sure thing, I remained unconvinced about the components. Certainly hauling 50 pounds of gear from sea-to-shinning-sea of America’s opposite coastlines would reveal any parts in need of replacement or repair. And, indeed, in one small town just thirty miles outside of Tallahassee, Florida, my rear Spinergy rim came undone.
begging a lift
in Panacea —
trip grown longer
At Sunshine Bicycles, the mechanic commented on the Cannondale’s coded downtube as he trued the new back rim and tuned the cassette. You see, I explained, the bike was used and purchased several years ago from a Pennsylvania ski resort that offered rentals for summertime down-hilling. It had barely been ridden, yet I had gotten it for a song. So, he asked, is this the bike you will use to cross Africa? Yes, I noted. That’s the plan.
The preparation for the ride and the last-minute tune-ups seemed to unravel immediately upon my arrival in Cairo. The box in which the bike has been transported is tattered – a front fork protrudes here, a handlebar there. A day later the rear derailleur continues to mis-shift during practice runs around the hotel pool. This beginning is most inauspicious, I think looking out from Giza upon the desert crossings that lie ahead.
camel herders drive
weary steeds to Western wastes —
cairo sprawls below
Our trusty mechanic Todd will make what he terms ‘hard adjustments’ on the bike – using hammer and pliers rather than the screwdriver and wrench – yet concerns remain. As we cross through Egypt and into Sudan, heat and howling sands play upon my worries.
the desert speaks in
strange whispers: the road
to Ferka village
Yet the bike remains intact and efficient, despite sand and lava rock, pitted track and pot-holed road. Others are forced to abandon cracked frames and wrecked forks. But the bike propels me forward, halted only by the occasional puncture…
lake Manyara’s flats
bristle with thorn and thistle –
winds send clouds racing
…and Mother Africa’s ever present gauntlet.
rock and mud make this passage
one most difficult
Soon the cleanly paved roads of the continent’s south sweep the racers to the finish. Perhaps all my early misgivings were unfounded; maybe they were simply a transference of the doubts and worries I harboured about my own ability to withstand the test of the tour. Likely Mr Armstrong did have a point after all. But our bikes have become part of us, us of them.
In Cape Town, there will be no grand prize to collect, no mighty trophy to brandish. The bike becomes the reward. At the finish line I stand and look at my F600, really see it for the first time in quite a while. Covered in dust and dents, components worn and tired, it is a reminder of a journey, of two continental crossings. It is s a symbol of achievement, one rooted in humbler origins – a dated model, bought not for aesthetics or aerodynamics, but for its sturdiness and simplicity. My eyes wander from my earthly rig to one of the sea anchored across the harbour. I remember it from a previous visit to the Mother City. Its name is still a good one.
still at its mooring
the Endurance an old friend:
Matt adds “I used the very same bike to cross Australia from Darwin to Adelaide in 2014. I then donated it to Bicycles for Humanity in Adelaide. I hope she is making someone’s life better where she is most needed.”