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by Johan

Growing up, I had a love-hate thing going with bikes. As a tool of freedom and discovery, there was a lot to love about my first proper bike, a gold/rust colored Crescent complete with 3-speed internal hub gearbox, coaster brake, and front wheel mounted dynamo light. As soon as enough snow melted in the springtime, I would fix up the punctures, throw some oil on the chain, and take off down the dirt road as fast as my legs could turn over the cranks. Up through the gears, sure there were only 3 but that did not stop me from becoming an MX-racer on the start straight every time I clicked through them all. The Crescent sported an indexed shifter, looking back perhaps it deserved more credit than I gave it at the time.

Ah yes, 1980's fashion in Sweden. I can't explain the feather.

As a mechanical contraption, there was a lot to hate about that old bike, especially on the way to school. Living on a farm in Sweden, I was separated from the classroom by a 4 km long road that must have cut through a parallel universe with wonky gravity, what with the journey being almost entirely uphill in both directions and all.

The gold/rust colored Crescent featured an impossibly big chainring, especially for an 11-year old carrying half a library of hardback school books in his pack. And when the days started getting shorter, the rides to and from school would get disproportionately longer, in no small measure due to the front wheel mounted dynamo which required about 300 watts of leg power just to turn over. What happened to those 300 watts I will never know, they certainly did not end up as photons coming out of the lamp, as by the time my sweat had been turned into a beam of light there was no more than a candle’s flicker left to guide me home. I do know that I cursed the changing season and the moment I would have to snap the dynamo onto the wheel and enter the pain locker yet again. The pain locker is a dark place when you’re 11.

There were of course better tools available. There always are. In Sweden in the eighties, there were bikes with drop bars and more gears. Gears that allowed my little friends to laughingly ease their way up any climb, only to then race back down without spinning out. However, those bikes remained out of reach, mainly because my mother did not think that being hunched over drop bars with only handbrakes to slow you down was a safe mode of transportation. And all those gears to work with, surely that time would be better spent looking at the road ahead?

No drop bars here.

A “Mountain Bike”. They called it a “Mountain Bike”. This one was green and yellow, and it belonged to a kid who lived up the hill from us. It had incredibly big knobby tires, and lots of gears. We had never seen anything like it. My friend could ride up any hill with it, no matter how steep, and he could go as fast as he wanted on the roughest roads and almost never get a flat. Maybe, since these “Mountain Bikes” didn’t have drop bars, I could get one too? Nah, probably not, but on this day, my friend had said I could borrow it. It was almost brand new, and now I was going to get to ride it for a whole day.

So there I was, sat outside our house, on a brand new mountain bike. Just looking at the thing you knew it had to be fast. Like, faster than anything you’d ever known before. And those tires, you could surely hold any line with those tires? I set off down the dirt road like I had so many times before, only this time, the gears just kept on coming, and soon I was pretty much flying. The bike wasn’t mine but the world was, for a few minutes at least.

Our neighbor had chickens. A bunch of hens in a pen, all busy laying eggs and lounging around the yard, as hens do. All except for The Crazy One. She would fly out of the yard (the only one to realize that a. she had wings, and b. there was no netting over the yard, maybe she wasn’t so crazy after all), and then she would hang around on the dirt road. The same dirt road that I was now headed down, probably pushing 50 kms/h. And since she was crazy, she could never quite decide which side of the road to stay on when a vehicle or a child on a bike would approach. Left side…no right side…back to the left again…WAIT, no, better on the right…left...invariably, it would end with the crazy chicken making a last second dash to whatever side she was NOT on just before the object causing her so much confusion would arrive. How she had survived to that day was a mystery to us all.

Seeing The Crazy One dart back and forth across the road I refused to let off the gas. This was my time, my golden opportunity, and besides, she always ended up surviving, so why wouldn’t she make it across safely this time too? The Game of Chicken was on once again….3…2….1…SHE WENT FOR IT, ONE LAST DASH TO SAFETY, and boom, down we went. Maybe she had never seen a “mountain bike” before either, and misjudged my speed. Maybe she had rolled the dice one time too many, and simply ran out of luck. Be that as it may, I ran her over and ragdolled into the ditch, twisting the bars of my friend’s new bike in the process. I’m pretty sure I grabbed a handful of those rim brakes, but to no avail.

The bike was ruined (so I thought), my arm and my knees were a mess (again), but worst of all, the crazy chicken was in a sorry state. Apparently she had a broken leg and a broken wing, because all she could manage was to flap about, using her remaining working limbs to slide around in a slow circle on the road, giving me the evil eye each time she came around in my direction. Nothing for it but to go to see the neighbor.

We were all secretly afraid of that particular neighbor. Maybe it was the mustache. At any rate I had my heart in my mouth as I shuffled up to his door and knocked. “Nothing to worry about”, said the neighbor, and I thought “wow, maybe everything can be made alright again. Maybe he can even help me fix my friend’s bike?”

We went down to the road, the neighbor picked up the crazy and now decidedly unfit chicken, and headed to the shed. I followed, curious to see how this guy who maybe wasn’t such a bad person after all would help her. Once in the shed, he picked up an axe - I barely had time to think “hey how’s THAT gonna help”, and THUNK – The Crazy One was no more. I say was no more, but her headless body flapped around the shed for what seemed like at least 5 minutes after the chop, no longer all that bothered by the broken wing and leg, while her head continued to stare at me, accusingly.

Don’t take The Chicken Line? Listen to your mother? To this day the significance of the event eludes me, all I know is that at the age of 14 I worked the fields for a whole summer, and with my savings I bought myself a Yamaha DT50. I swore that day I would never pedal to get anywhere again, certainly not uphill. It took many years to realize the error of my ways and to rediscover the joy of clicking through gears barreling down a stretch of dirt road or single track – I don’t blame anybody for that, least of all the chicken, life is a long road and we all have to make our own way down it. But remember, you may never figure out why the chicken crossed the road, just stay out of her way if she looks a little unstable.

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