Bike Salvation. A Second Chance At Life & A Thank You To The Austin Social Cycling Community.

Back in early June I crashed my bike out in west Texas on the edge of the desert & the cusp of the hill country.  I picked myself up, dusted myself off & continued riding for another several hundred miles.  It wasn’t until I was about 70 miles west of the city before I realized I had wrinkled my down-tube.  I rode into town, unpacked my gear, & settled into my new home to begin my new life at the hostel.  

I’d spent the past few months trying to decide how to approach moving forward from here.  Over that time I rode my bike very limitedly knowing that its life expectancy was now dwindling, but continued reluctantly pedaling & commuting around town regardless due to having no other form of transportation.  

Over that time the crack began to spread & get progressively worse as my down tube slowly started to separate under my body weight & resonant frequencies from the vibrations of the road.  Realizing it ultimately would be an expensive & invasive investment to replace the entire frame-set & transfer all of my existing components; I sought advice from the local cycling community here in Austin. 

The goal was to see if I could potentially repair my baby rather than replace it.  I met a man on one of the Thursday Night Social Bike Rides here in the city, who unbeknownst to me turned out to be a bit of a legend in the bike world.  

When I posted in the Facebook group page that I was looking into finding a frame builder or welder to potentially inspect the damaged area to see if it was possible to repair, he commented on the post saying “bring it by the shop, I’ll take a look at it & see what I can do”.  

That 7 mile ride across town from west campus to the lower east side made me honestly question whether or not my bike was going to make it.  With every pedal stroke I could hear it clicking & cracking & feel the frame flexing & giving way.  I was afraid it was literally gonna snap in half & separate beneath me if I hit a pothole.  

Thankfully it managed to survive the slow roll all the way there.  Just before I arrived I passed a mural that read “Till Death Do Us Part” & had to stop to get my cathartic piece of photographic closure.  I imagined I would arrive at his shop to be told that I was handing him a dead bike and that there was nothing he would be able to do. 

 When I did finally arrived at his shop on my broken steed & presented it to Wes The Wizard Williams himself, (the man, the myth, the legend who is single handedly accredited with inventing the 29” mountain bike wheel; a technological advancement that revolutionized the bicycle industry & changed the cycling world forever). 

***Side-note: He also founded, owned & operated a custom handmade bicycle company named “Willits” where he perfected his craft as a frame builder & a welder.  He has since discontinued fabricating Willits brand bicycles but is now designing & building high end machines for a local company here in town that has become the world wide industry standard for high end work bikes “Precision Pedicab”.***

He took one glance at my bike & said “yeah I can weld that up” grabbed a file, started chipping the paint off the effected area & sanding down the frame around the crack.  He drilled two holes into the opposite sides of the tube to prevent the crack from spreading further.  Threw it up on the table, put his mask on & welded that puppy back together right there on the spot no hesitation, no questions asked.  

I said “man I owe you a beer every Thursday night for the rest of the time I’m in town” he replied with “why don’t you just give me some cash now & we’ll call it even”.  I said “fair enough, what do I owe ya?” He said “how’s $25 bucks sound?” I said “seems fair to me” reached for my money to pay him when I realized I had just spent all of my pocket cash on weed right before I rode over & didn’t have any more left on me.  I told I’d have to pay him tomorrow & he said “fine then, make it $30 & let’s smoke some of that weed”.

We cruised over to a local public park together & then to a sculpture garden before we went our separate ways & continued on our respective days.  In parting he said “that should get you to The Keys, but if you hear that sound again I’d find another welder or get another bike”.  

Thanks to engaging with the local bike community, I somehow managed to stumble into a great story, got a band aid on my baby & an extension on its life.  I have to come to terms that eventually my bike will ultimately fail, and need to be replaced but at least now we have that much more time together before she becomes my favorite wall-art-conversation-piece.  You’ve heard of ridin’ her til the wheels fall off, well I literally rode her til she cracked in-half & stitched her back.  

This thing has withstood the test of time through the wet pacific north west rainforest, frozen Rocky Mountain alpine, & arid desolate expanses of the Sonoran & Chihuahuan deserts.  Rain, hail, sleet snow, flash floods, black ice, forest fires, dust storms, mud, dirt, gravel, highways & byways, this bike & I have been everywhere, through everything together & were not ready to call it quits anytime soon.  

We’ve put nearly 20,000 fully loaded miles on this chromoly pack mule through 30/50 states + DC, Canada, & Mexico Over The Past few years together.  We’ve climbed over mountains, descended into canyons, through tunnels bridges & borders we’ve gotten lost & found ourselves time & time again.  Hell, this bike was even stolen & came back to me by way of a good samaritan bike messenger on the street who turned out to be a long lost cousin I never knew I had.  That ultimately lead to me learning something new about my ancestry I wouldn’t have ever discovered.

This bicycle has taught me more about myself than anything else in this world & has helped me to learn far more than I would have ever been able to on my own.  I can’t wait to continue on our path back home together (the long scenic way of course).  I’m just as excited to meet the unexpected people who lie along my route as I am to see the unfamiliar places & things I never dreamed stumbling upon.  The saddest part of bicycle touring (& life) is always leaving the people & places that feel like home.  The most exciting part? Those that have yet to come.

Who knows how much longer I’ll be able to push this work horse to its limits; until it finally gives way on me, but you better believe I’ll be damn sure to make the most out of the rest of our time together, that’s a promise.

Drew Echelberger