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9.7.9 Spike Bike and the Columnist


This article is from the Misc Bicycles FAQs, by various authors.

9.7.9 Spike Bike and the Columnist

From: spike@cbnewsd.ATT.COM (Bob Fishell)

[In the year 1989, one man fights an institution]

Annie asked me how it all began.

I told her the story of Scott Currey and the last Kay-five, but it
really started a long time before that. I learned how to ride a bike
when I was four or five, and it probably started shortly thereafter.
Nevertheless, when I think of more recent times, of the dark years
immediately preceeding the Act, one incident comes to mind...

It was the summer of 1989. I was in my second year as an undergrad
at Caltech, visiting my family in Chicago over the break and competing
in some of the local races. I was still a Cat 2 then, unknown save for
a small local reputation I was getting.

Dave Karpinski, my best friend and one of my teammates, showed me a
newspaper clipping that had been circulating among most of the USCF
clubs in the area. The author was a humorist, a local personality noted
for his irreverent commentary and sardonic wit. Usually, his columns
were funny. There was nothing funny about this one. He described an
incident involving his wife and a local cyclist. The cyclist, it
seems, had been hit by the wife's car. The circumstances which led to
this were not fully explained, but the columnist inferred that it had
been the cyclist's fault; perhaps he had run a stop sign. This was not
infuriating in itself. The columnist, however, went on to explain how
his wife had been upset by the incident. He claims that he would have
enjoyed it. Mutilation and death, it would seem, were appropriate
penalties for minor traffic violations.

_T_h_a_t was infuriating.

The local racing organization was asking its members to write
letters to the columnist's paper, deploring the irresponsible nature of
the column and all that. I took a somewhat different view. Being one
who holds freedom of speech in the highest regard, I didn't want to tell
his paper they shouldn't have printed the article. The man was entitled
to his views, however warped and sadistic they might have been.
Nevertheless, I wondered if he was sincere in his word. I thought I
might find out. I was always better with a bike than with a typewriter,

The rag he wrote for ran TV commercials that suggested he was a
regular at "Billy Goat's Tavern," one of the Loop saloons. I checked it
out and found out it was true enough, although the place wasn't as homey
and cozy as the commercials would have you believe. I spent
considerable time observing him, keeping track of his comings and
goings and the amount of beer he drank. The information would prove

I followed him home a few times, in my Dad's car, keeping a
discreet distance. I didn't want him to see me on a bike just yet. I
had to learn his habits, which turned out to be well established. This
would also prove useful.

Ultimately, I was ready to set up for him. I didn't go armed in
those days (although I often wanted to), but what I had in mind was
somewhat less than lethal. Hanging from ceiling hooks in my parents'
garage was an old Schwinn LeTour I used to ride to high school. It was
battered and rusty, but still serviceable. It did, however, require a
few modifications. I retrieved a set of Deore' cantilever brakes and a
pair of beat-up Campy Record levers from my junk box. A little work
with a brazing torch, and the brakes bolted on. I installed a couple of
oversized Mathauser brake pads, the kind used for heavily loaded
touring, and a pair of well-stretched 2mm cables. When I was done, my
old beater bike had brakes that would stop a train.

I waited until Friday afternoon to make my move. I wore my most
obnoxious outfit, a screaming, day-glow jersey I'd won in some crit or
another, and a matching helmet cover, white gloves, and shorts with a
bright yellow stripe. I wanted to make sure he could see me.

I lay in ambush for him in an alley a couple of miles from his
house. I knew he'd be coming home from Billy Goat's down this narrow
street, with several beers in him. As I saw him approach, I pulled out
of the alley and strategically moved in front of his car. He laid on
the horn, but I ignored it. There were cars parked in solid lines down
both sides of the street, with nowhere for me to go, even if I'd wanted
to. Of course, I didn't want to. I wanted him good and mad.

At the end of the block was a four-way stop sign. The columnist
would make a right-hand turn here, usually the California variety. This
is where I sprang my trap. I did something he didn't expect. I
stopped. That is, I STOPPED, from 21 MPH to zero in just enough space
to keep me from going over the handlebars.

He did what I expected. Timing it perfectly, I had released the
brakes an instant before his bumper hit my back wheel. It was easier to
control than I'd expected; I had to throw the bike into a skid myself,
taking care to slide a ways on my elbow and thigh. A touch of road rash
would make it more convincing.

By the time the columnist was out of his car, a couple of
passersby had already come to my side. I wasn't hurt, but I made a good
show of it, holding my elbow with the other hand, not getting up from
the street. A crowd was gathering. I heard someone murmur something
about getting an ambulance, another mentioning the police. The
columnist was visibly shaken, but I was just getting started. As he
approached, I turned to face him, pointed my finger and shouted to the
gathering crowd:

"Him! He tried to kill me! He followed me for blocks! Get him
away from me!"

A couple of big men emerged from the crowd, stood between me and
the columnist, glowering menacingly.

"What did you do to the kid?" One said (I was 24 and an ex-Marine
at the time, but I took no insult in being called a "kid" under the
circumstances). "Sh__, you just run him down, man. Hey, mother______,
you been drinkin'?" The crowd got uglier as sirens approached.

Ultimately I went easy on him. I dropped the assault charges a few
days later. I waited a couple of months to tell him I wouldn't be
seeking civil damages, although I did ask him to pay for the bike. He
was in a good deal more trouble with the police and his editor, given
the content of the article he'd written. And I didn't see him hanging
around Billy Goat's Tavern much after that. Just as well; I kind of
liked the place.

It was just a small skirmish, ultimately an empty victory before
the gathering storm.

Copyright (c) 1989 by Robert Fishell
All Rights Reserved


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