Firecracker 5k

There’s something about looking at a ridiculously expensive bike leaning against the wall of a dingy, cut-rate motel room that just feels a little dirty.

I was sitting in a tiny, dark, airless room in Cortez, wondering whether I should put the bike in the bed and just take the floor for myself. After all, I didn’t want to ding her. Or get dirt from our crunchy little carpet on her flashy Zipp wheels.

Really, what’s a fine bike like you doing in a place like this?

Let me tell you. Since my ancient Jamis is starting to fall apart, I decided this tour would be a fine time to test out some new wheels — not to buy, but just to use for free and give my old girl a rest on a few days. So Monday, I slung my leg over this high-end SRAM — a beautiful, slick bike with high-profile Zipp wheels and shifting that is so smooth I’m not sure I’ve even changed gears.

When they were measuring me up for my temporary ride, I casually asked how business was doing. “Oh, we’re usually a bit slow on registration day,” said my helpful SRAM tech, “but once word gets out that we’re offering free test rides on $12,000 bikes, it picks up a little.”

My jaw dropped to my knees. $12,000? My car’s not even worth $12,000 at this point.

“Just bring it back by 1-ish tomorrow, or we’ll charge your credit card,” he added, as I gingerly walked the bike away.

That’s the downside of these free rides: you’re petrified of leaving so much as a ding in its carbon-fiber frame. I brought it back to our dingy little hotel room and leaned it up against my bed, where I stared at it through the night, trying to establish that it was still there. During the ride, I would pass people and leave about 20 feet between me and the other riders; at aid stations, I almost left the Portajohn door open a crack so I could keep an eye on it while I did my business.

And when I finally wheeled it into the vendor lot at the high school in Durango, I was a mix of bereft and hugely relieved. They asked me how my ride was, and I replied that I loved it and was going to miss it.

The lovely SRAM and the random person who rode her.

The lovely SRAM and the random person who rode her.

“Would you like me to take a picture of you with the bike?” the kind tech asked.

“Sure!” I said, and dutifully posed with a big smile.

Well, I got my picture. Of the bike, anyway… it’s a little more expensive than me, after all.

— Ingrid Muller