Kmart Bike Shaped Object

Justin M. Short

My wife is one hell of a gift giver. Lynn is a massage therapist (with an ad in this issue of Out There!) and for years she had a trade going with a bike shop owner. Sometime in the dog days of summer she picked my brain, and as far as I knew we were “talking bike,” a favored activity of those stricken down by Obsessive Compulsive Cycling Disorder. (Incidentally, there’s a hilarious book of the same name written by Dave Barter available at Auntie’s Bookstore.)

I’ve watched Lynn’s eyes glaze over many a time enduring my extended metaphor soliloquies on gear ratios, head tube angles, and tubeless tires. Then six months later an obscure 172.5 mm cyclo-compact crank set or a Long Haul Trucker touring frame shows up under the tree. And I thought we were just talking bike; she blows my mind every time.

BSO is a bike industry term for a “bicycle-shaped object” that one buys in a department store and works just fine as long as you don’t ride it.

Justin short

Experiences like that take me back to my childhood when I had ridden my Kmart bike into oblivion. The frame had been broken and welded twice, it wasn’t quite straight anymore, and the drive train skipped more than not, causing me to whack my knee on the “goose neck.” (That part of the bike that holds the handlebars on and was designed specifically to destroy your knee when the gears skip.) That thing’s called a stem now. The pedal platforms had long since broken off, exposing the bare metal spindles that slipped off my feet and whacked me in the shins at least a dozen times on every ride. I was in my 30s before hair started growing on my shins again.

As demoralizing as it was to ride that bike, I still rode it every day because there were adventures to be had and sketchy board ramps to hit. I had been begging and pleading with my parents for a new bike for several months, but when Christmas morning came, there was no bike under the tree. I tried to put on a happy face, my mom, seeing right through it, told me we could save up and get me a bike by summer. I sniffled out a few tears at the thought. I didn’t even need a nice bike. Sure, I’d been drooling over a few of the “bike shop” bikes, but I’d be just as happy with a Kmart BSO. (BSO is a bike industry term for a “bicycle shaped object” that one buys in a department store and works just fine as long as you don’t ride it).

Bike riding and sketchy ramps. // Illustration: Justin Short

We were living well below the poverty line in rust belt Pennsyltucky, so I didn’t expect more than that. Mom kissed me on the head and sent me down to check the fire while she got breakfast on. I moped back up the basement stairs a few minutes later, “Did you check the fire?” Mom asked. “It’s cold, GO CHECK THE FIRE!!” Back down the basement stairs I went, lower lip protruding, I turned on the furnace room light and there it was. I have no idea how I missed it, because it was leaning up against the coal bin I’d just grabbed a scoop of coal from: the $243 and 67-cents Hutch Pro Raider, the sweetest of all the bike shop bikes ever I’d seen.

I ran screaming jubilant screams, cheeks now streaked with tears of joy, into my Mom’s arms, then dragged the new bike outside for a wheelie session that has continued for 40+ years.

Justin M. Short is the Everyday Cyclist columnist and will be out there bike commuting in rain, hail, sleet, snow and muck all winter long, all the while smiling ear to ear.

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