By Vernon Felton
Stalker—the word has such a negative ring to it, for obvious reasons. ‘Stalker’ smacks of restraining orders, white vans and that creepy basement in “The Silence of the Lambs.”
I don't have a serial-killer van. Let's be clear about that. No restraining order either. But I can't deny the basic facts: I'm distracted. I'm irrational. I spend my days plotting how I'll bring home the thing I desire… I'm pretty sure I'm ticking off all the little boxes on the stalker personality profile.
It all started a few weeks back. I took a spin on the Internet one night and saw it: my first real bike…in mint condition, like it'd been trapped in amber all this time. The moment it flashed up on my screen, I had to have it back. And I'm not exaggerating. I didn't merely want this bike. I had to have it. I can't think of anything else. I am obsessed.
In order for any of this to make any sense at all, we have to go back almost 30 years.
When I was 13, my parents bought me a bike—a $160 Centurion Signet. It was 36 pounds of high-tensile steel and plastic parts. In other words, it was a pile of shit. It was also, however, as good a bike as my parents could afford and it got me rolling. Ten-mile spins gave way to 30-mile rides and then to 60- and 80-mile grinds. I stopped smoking pot and stealing six packs. I started pairing Lycra shorts with my Converse Chuck Taylors. And while I was grateful to have received my first bike, it wasn't long before I was guiltily thinking of replacing it.
The Centurion was about as high-performance as a turnip. It was heavy. It was flexy. It sucked. I loved riding because I loved riding—the wind in my mullet, that jolt of adrenaline as I cut corners at reckless speeds…. I loved those sensations, but that plodding Centurion didn’t actually make any of those things any more fun or enjoyable. That bike brought me to the party, so to speak, but it didn’t bring anything to the party itself. I wanted a better bike.
I got a job washing dishes and scrubbing toilets. I scrimped, I saved and, in 1986, I bought my first real performance machine: a Specialized Allez SE Jim Merz Edition. It was a thing of beauty. Sure, it lacked the glamour of something exotic like a Ciocc or Colnago or Cinelli, but the frame was a work of art all the same—peerless Japanese framebuilding at its best. That steel Allez was a revelation. It was nimble. It was light. Everything that I loved about riding immediately intensified. It was like the difference between enduring a shadow-puppet production of The Three Little Pigs and watching “Pulp Fiction” in an IMAX theater.
I named my new bike. I parked it next to my bed every night. I waxed it weekly. I cleaned the chain with a toothbrush after each ride. Years later my girlfriend admitted that she'd become bitterly jealous of the bike, which probably says everything you need to know about just how deep my obsession ran.
This all lasted for just four, sweet months. Then tragedy came up from behind and sucker punched the shit out of me.
I can't remember why I took the Allez SE into the bike shop, but here's what happened: The shop rat took my bike, hefted it into the workstand and promptly clamped directly onto the water bottle boss—which put a giant, crippling dent in the seat-tube.
The frame—my perfect frame—was ruined.
The shop owner eventually agreed to replace the frame, but Specialized didn't have my model in stock anymore. All they had was the new Taiwanese version. In theory, the only real difference was the cheesy teal paint job and the country of origin. In reality, the workmanship wasn't even close. Worse yet, the ride just wasn't the same. The new frame lacked that perfect balance of stiffness and resilience. It was merely acceptable.
Of course, none of this stopped me from riding. I was hooked by this point and had moved on from recreational user to full-blown addict. Where I went to college, the woman I married, the career I chose…it would all revolve, one way or another, around my love of bikes, which I could trace right back to that first great bike of mine.
I haven't thought much about that Specialized Allez in years. There's no need. I've been riding the same 1994 Bridgestone RB-1 for 16 years now, and it is about as close to road-bike perfection as has ever been built.
But then two weeks ago, I decided on a whim to just, you know, type the name of my first love into Google—just to see what would happen. And there she was. A vision in high-gloss—no dings, no scratches, no wear on the crankarms. Hell, it even had the original brake pads. And…it was…already sold. The online retailer had off-loaded the bike just a few weeks before. Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!
Suddenly, I was consumed by an entirely irrational urge to buy that bike. It. Must. Be. Mine.
The last 14 nights have gone like this: Go to bed. Roll over.
Think of bike—the one I lost.
Think of bike—the one that's collecting dust in somebody's rafters. The one that should be mine. The one I would kill for.
That guy doesn't even deserve it. Does he know who Jim Merz even is?
He does not. I know he doesn't…
He probably calls it a ’10 speed.’ He probably just rides it on bike paths.
He's probably going to put flat bars on it. Or make it a fixie. He's probably already making it a fixie. JesusEffinChrist.
Get up. Type ‘vintage Specialized Allez’ into Google. Scroll through boring Pinterest galleries. Get angry. Read vintage forums. Shake fist at God. Tell myself that I am not a stalker.
This morning, as the sun rose, my wife sat down at the kitchen table where I was hunched over the laptop, stabbing at the keyboard, digging through the data…trying to score.
"I just want to know," she said, "if you really think that old bike is as good as you say it was."
She asks this in the very calm tone that police negotiators employ when they're trying to convince crazy people that everyone would be so much happier if they just refrained from jumping off the top of the skyscraper.
"It's been almost 30 years," she added "What if you do find this bike and it isn't everything you remembered it as? What then?"
It's a fair point. How much am I really remembering and how much am I imagining anyway? Maybe that first great bike was great because I was coming off an entry-level dung heap of a bike. Maybe it was great simply because it was the bike I happened to be riding when I truly fell in love with cycling. Maybe a bike that felt perfect to me when I was 14 would feel entirely wrong now that I'm in my 40s. And, really, why am I even trolling through the Internet when I have a great bike already? It's not like you can ride more than one bike at a time anyway.
I sigh, shut down the computer and step away from the table. My wife's probably right. I'm probably not even chasing a bike. I'm probably just chasing a memory. I already have everything I need.
…but if you do have a mint condition, 56-centimeter 1986 Specialized Allez SE Jim Merz edition, let me know.