Chained to the Rack
Winner of the Stanford Story Slam

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I was chained to the rack. Prisoners stretched to my right and left, no room to lie down even if that cursed bolt hadn’t forced me upright in the chill night.

Some believed in a savior. Even now, even with the racks filled to bursting. She swept through the dark, it was whispered, swift and quiet, with the power to cut the chains that bound us. Maybe she will free us, we murmured to each other on nights such as these, our rebellious words hidden by the whistle of wind through taut spokes. Maybe we could join her.

She had gathered a following of hundreds already, or so the hopeful said. The rare bike left unchained would steal away in search of her, never to return.

I might have held faith. But I was an old bike, rusty, a putrid yellow that in better days might have been orange. It was the new ones that she preferred, the shiny ones with their aluminum frames and racer handlebars. Not me. What would she want with an old bike like me?

I told myself it was for the best. Why not save the youngsters, not-yet-jaded, with hundreds of miles left in their futures? Why pause for someone with one wheel in the junkyard?

I believed I’d accepted my fate. It didn’t stop hope from rushing through my frame whenever a light swept our ranks in the dead of night. But years of disappointment wore me down, until my heart felt as thin as my brake pads.

So when one night, the light stopped on me, picking me out among the rows, I didn’t understand. “You’ve had it rough,” a voice whispered, and then strong hands were maneuvering a pair of metal jaws around my fetters, and with a click and a rattle, I was — free. Free of this place of bolts and chains, free!

It was a long drive away from that crowded hell. The cheers and sighs of my comrades echoed in my thoughts. But euphoria slowly gave way to tension, until I was strung tight as the spokes on a factory-fresh wheel. It was dark, and stuffy in the back of the van I’d been tossed into. Where were we going? There was another bike on top of me, a youngster still smelling of new rubber. A traitorous thought slithered into my mind, like a thorn puncturing a tire — was this all that much different from where I had been before? Would I leave at last, only to wish I had backpedaled?

The door slid open. My doubts flaked away like old paint. Fresh air washed over my chain, sunlight glinted from my reflectors in bright sparkles, and I could see through the doorway; the landscape was bucolic. Green fields stretched into the distance as cows chewed meditatively in the shaded embrace of swaying trees. They had called my old prison, “the Farm” — what a cruel joke that seemed now. How could rushing from rack to rack along the same dull tarmac paths, day after day, compare to this beauty?

An ache rose up inside me, tugging at my posts and crossbars, pulling me towards the promise of freedom. Hands lifted the youngster off me, carried it to the side of the road and laid it down in a bed of seeded grasses. She walked out of sight around the vehicle. I lay, motionless, waiting, just waiting, ready to rush out to that tantalizingly near, impossibly welcoming, still unattainable ground. Soon, I knew, soon.

At last she lifted me out of that trunk and I felt the soft embrace of grass against my tires, so worn from abuse against the burning asphalt of that prison. My brake pads too, had suffered long, their shrieking squeals of pain and terror ignored for years as they wore thinner and thinner. But there would be no need for braking here.

Sudden whispers arose on my sprocket-side, and I turned my handlebars toward this unfamiliar sound. I was hearing bikes! My spirits shifted into highest gear. How I had forgotten that bikes are not meant to limp around with rusty chains, clacking each pedal, but rather breathe and waft through the world. Bikes! Hundreds of bikes, meandering about, sun glinting off of spokes just as I had imagined back when I had still dared to imagine.

This would be my future, I knew. There would be no racks here, no bolts, no crashes. “Circle of Death” would be no more than a story to frighten the baby bikes, who would never know a bent wheel or broken chain. There would be no humiliating registrations, no neglect over winter break. There would only be freedom.

It was months later when I realized — freedom would not be enough. I could not forget about 15,000 bicycles still suffering. I saw our forces growing day by day. We freed hundreds every year. Our forces were growing. Soon would we would be strong enough. I felt conviction strong as my steel frame. When that day came, we would return to the Farm, numbering in the thousands by then. And helmets would be no protection against our wrath.

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