Worcester, Mass.
May 24, 1998

Recovery from rack and ruin

By Lynne Tolman

   There ought to be a support group for people who drive their car into the garage with their bike on the roof rack. Call it Wheel Crunchers Anonymous.
   No one who's heard that sickening wood-on-metal impact should have to suffer alone. Wheel Crunchers could meet in church basements, sit in a circle on metal folding chairs, drink harsh coffee from Styrofoam cups and tell it like it is:
   "Hi, my name is Dick, and I just completely forgot the bike was up there. My wife and I were just following our normal routine -- I stop, give her the keys, she gets out of the car and opens the garage door, and I drive in -- but we had gone to a July 4 barbecue so it was many hours after my bike ride ..."
   "I'm Lorraine from Worcester, and it was late at night and I was very tired. I was devastated. I loved that bike."
   "My name is Glen, and it was a brand new bike. I hadn't even ridden it. My butt had never even touched the saddle."
   The names and the stories are real. Bike shop employees say they see the wreckage from inadequate vertical clearance -- garages, fast-food drive-throughs, drive-up bank windows -- on a fairly regular basis.
   At the moment of impact, a Wheel Cruncher may feel like the only person in the world to have such a lapse of common sense. But together, these unfortunates could share their feelings and work through the stages of recovery from self-inflicted bicycle destruction:
   SHOCK -- Glen Ilacqua of Worcester saw his virgin Waterford skitter across the driveway after it popped off the Yakima rack on his new sport utility vehicle. He jumped out of the car and "for about 30 seconds I don't think I breathed. It was a nightmare. Spokes were everywhere ... I went back to Fritz's (Bicycle Shop) and they said, 'Here, sit down. Can we get you a drink?' I must have looked really bad."
   GRIEF -- Dick Mollin of Northboro remembers cradling his crushed Klein in his arms like an injured baby, afraid he might damage it further as he gently put it inside the car for the emergency trip to Trek Stop in South Grafton. "I realized then I'd never been so attached to an inanimate object," he said. "It was an expensive model, essentially semi-custom made, and I was really taking very good care of it. I had it about two years."
   DENIAL -- Mollin hoped he could replace the destroyed frame (the top tube was severed) with an identical model, paint color and all, so that no one would have to know his dirty little secret. But it turned out Klein wasn't making that frame anymore. He ended up getting one that was a couple of centimeters larger, and a different color.
   SHAME -- "Of course I felt really stupid," Ilacqua said. "I called all my friends and said, 'You're talking to the stupidest man in America.' That's actually how I got over it, by talking about it and laughing about it with all my friends." But at first, he said, he was so embarrassed, he wondered if he could even bring himself to go back to the same bike shop.
   PANIC -- "All of a sudden I had no bike," said Lorraine Stewart, heart racing at the mere memory of her dearly departed Vitus. "I had to have a bike to ride, the next weekend." The fork was bent, and the aluminum tubes were bent to the point that repair would have cost more than a new frame. Neil Medin at Bicycle Alley scrambled to get Stewart an updated Vitus frame shipped by two-day freight and put her salvaged components on it in time for the next weekend's ride.
   ACCEPTANCE -- Of an insurance settlement, that is. Mollin and Stewart had replacement costs covered by a homeowners policy, less a deductible. In Ilacqua's case, repairs totaled about $400, which was less than his deductible. His front wheel and handlebar were destroyed, the rear wheel was slightly pretzeled, the right Ergo shifter was messed up but fixable, but the frame had nary a scratch. "I was really stretched financially to buy this bike, and then to make the repairs on top of it really hurt," Ilacqua said. "But hey, I'll make another couple thousand someday."
   Emotional acceptance comes eventually. Mollin had to wait about six weeks for his new ride, relegated to his old touring bike in the meantime and fretting that the new bike just wouldn't be the same. But in the end, "I like the way this bike rides and fits, so it all worked out."
   Ilacqua found solace as soon as he got his new wheels spinning, which only took four days. But during the crisis, "I had to talk myself down: You didn't run over the neighbor's kid; you didn't kill the dog. It's just a piece of steel."
   Wheel Crunchers also develop, albeit belatedly, strategies for avoiding those nasty garage doors. Mollin now keeps his garage door key in the trunk, so he has to get out of the car -- and see the bike -- before driving into the bay. Ilacqua uses Yakima's magnetic hood attachment with a spring-loaded lid that's kept down by the wind but pops up when the car slows to 5 or 6 mph to reveal a "Load Alert" warning. Rack maker Thule provides a rear-view mirror sticker that says "Bikes on Top." Medin advises keeping the garage door opener inside of a cycling glove, so that to use it you have to first think "bicycle."

2007 update: A product called the BikeBouncer is a barrier that drops down from your overhead garage door when it opens.
   TIP OF THE HELMET to Assabet River Rail Trail proponents, who succeeded at Stow and Maynard town meetings last week in securing local matching funds for a federal grant to acquire land for the 12.5-mile bikeway from Marlboro to Acton. Hudson and Acton approved their shares earlier this spring, and Marlboro is also on board.
   Mountain bikers will be cutting stumps on trails in Upton State Forest at 9 a.m. Saturday. If you can help, contact Paul Moody (508-435-3218).
   The Minuteman Bikeway, which runs 10.5 miles from Bedford through Lexington to Arlington, has been extended to the Alewife MBTA station in Cambridge. An official opening ceremony for the extension was held Tuesday.

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