I adopted an orphaned bike the other day—a trick bike, found by a good friend. Well, “orphaned” probably isn’t the most accurate term. Not unless you’d call a child stolen from its parents an “orphan.” The bike was almost certainly swiped from its rightful owner and then ditched and forgotten. My friend noticed it stashed behind a bush in a vacant lot. As the leaves fell, the bike slowly emerged. Taking pity on it, he eventually brought the bike home, and kindly offered it to me. (He knows I’ve got a garage that always has room for another bike.)
The timing was uncanny. I’d been thinking that a cheap second-hand trick bike might be just the thing for my two young boys. And here was one being offered up—free, even. So why did I hesitate to take it? Well, on some level, it just felt ethically . . . uncomfortable. My friend had behaved honourably. He called the police and looked into options for reuniting the bike with its owner. But there didn’t seem to be much chance of that happening. (The police told him the bike would likely end up in a police auction.)
As the bike sat in my friend’s apartment waiting for me to pick it up, I could hear two voices whispering in my ears. On one shoulder, the pointy-bearded pragmatist pointed out that someone who is not the rightful owner is going to end up riding that bike, so why shouldn’t it be me and my kids? My taking the bike home would simply be making the best of an unfortunate situation.
But the white-robed conscience voice on my other shoulder observed that if I accepted the bike, then I would be complicit—in a small way—with the morally repugnant cycle of bike theft and resale/re-use. I wondered: Will my knowing that the bike is (almost certainly) stolen somehow taint that ride? Even though, of course, I didn’t actually steal it myself? Would the bike, in effect, be kind of haunted? Or bring with it some kind of dark ju-ju or negative vibe?
I don’t know if I believe in bike karma—some kind of cosmic scheme whereby the acquisition and loss of bikes somehow evens out in the long run. But I do know that people can get awfully attached to their bikes, more so than to many other possessions. And I know that the feeling of having a bike stolen can be a soul-crushing mixture of disbelief, anger, and disgust.
I’ll never forget how I felt when I had a bike and Chariot stolen from outside my son’s daycare. Steal a Chariot? Really? This was a level of dirtbaggery I didn’t think possible. Similarly, my wife still laments the theft of her blue Raleigh Ambush over two years ago. Even now, when she sees a blue Ambush parked outside the Safeway, I can see her eyeing it up, wondering if it could be her bike. The last thing I want to do is somehow become implicated in making someone else feel that way.
My wise colleague Val Garou suggested I perform some kind of cleansing ritual on the bike, perhaps burn some sweetgrass or an old bike tire. Maybe sprinkle some Holy Lube all over it or, perhaps, make a sacrifice to the bike gods (chop the top off a water bottle?) in an effort to achieve some purification that would allow me and my kids to ride guilt free.
In the end, I brought the bike home, but the reaction I got from the boys was telling. I hadn’t mentioned the story behind the bike’s adoption. They looked at it, sat on it for a few minutes, and then dropped it on the grass in the backyard. The next day I wheeled it into the garage, and it hasn’t moved since. That was a couple weeks ago. I tell myself the boys are just not into bikes these days; they’d rather play football or road hockey at this time of year. Or maybe they can tell that there’s something strange about that little bike, that it's got some dark baggage.
In an effort to bond with the bike, I’ve named it: Blackie. It may take some time for us to get comfortable with old Blackie, for me to become reconciled with his dubious past. But he's now part of our extended family, I suppose, karma and all.