The guy at the bike shop had been unenthusiastic about giving my circa 1985 Schwinn a tune-up right from the start. The tires needed to be replaced, he pointed out. The outdated steel rims made braking unsafe. A more recent used bike wouldn’t cost much more than the tune-up and the tires.
But I wanted to keep the bike in rideable condition. It really belonged to my brother, Chris. I had “borrowed” it five or six years ago. Chris was storing it at our parents’ house during one of his longer stay in Russia. He didn’t reclaim it after he got back; there were never any convenient circumstances for him to pick it up. Now so much time has passed that I’m sure he wouldn’t be interested. I didn’t have sentimental reasons for maintaining the bike; I had a guilty conscious.
A few days later, back at the bike shop, I was given the bad news. The man I’d talked to before was showing me a big hole in the front piece of the bike frame. “The fork was cracked under the head tube. It’s been like that for quite a while: see how the metal has been rubbed away? I’ve actually never seen damage quite like this.”
Chris got into an accident on the very day he bought the bike in 1985 or 1986. I don’t know the details, but the accident was bad enough that he had to have dental work done afterward.
This is uninformed speculation, but maybe the fork was damaged on that first day – a hairline fracture that remained relatively stable through the years of infrequent use, until this week, when it gave way and clogged up the works. (Update: Or maybe not, see comments.)