Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Few Decades of Bicycles

When I told my friend David that I have my eye on a new bicycle, he asked if this fascination with bikes was a new thing. That got me thinking about my bikes and biking over the years, so I thought I'd put some of that into words.

I lived in England with my parents and siblings in 1965 and 1966. That was a major watershed. My childhood memories are clearly divided into before, during, and after. I was nine years old when we moved to England, so I was already a bit of a big kid and enjoying bike riding. I still have my bike license plate from 1964. I must have had a coaster brake single speed bike, but I remember nothing about it. I do remember riding down Elmwood Ave. to the other end, which must have been all of twenty blocks! But that freedom to explore is a memory I still cherish.

We got two bikes in England; they must have been for my sisters. I remember my older sister's bike especially, because it had a front hub dynamo. They've been around a long time! And both bikes had hand brakes. Those were really nice bicycles! I spent most of my time in a boarding school there and didn't ride much at all. I do remember a bit of riding on the left side of the road, borrowing my older sister's bike.

When we moved from England back to Ohio, to Bath, somehow I caught the trend and begged my Dad for a Schwinn Sting-Ray. He was generous enough to indulge me - a five speed derailleur with a monster shifter on the top tube. But soon after that I met my best friend of those days, Mark Laessig. Mark died tragically young, at maybe 27. I was in contact with him shortly before cancer took him, when he was designing supersonic jet engines at NASA. But even in 8th grade he was obviously brilliant. Somehow in 1969 he had some kind of real racing bike, with drop bars, toe clips, and Campagnolo shifters front and rear. I only had that Sting-Ray a few months before I pulled off the banana seat and replaced it with something much more conventional. The high rise bars got pushed far forward to get me into a conventional posture.

Oh, I rode that bike a lot! Just to ride to Mark's house was a good ride - up Bath Hill, to start with! The biggest ride I remember was Mark and I riding to Nelson Ledges State Park. Looking on a map now - wow, that was over 40 miles! I bonked on the return trip and Mark's Mom rescued us, so it was probably only a 60 mile day. With some hiking and bouldering in the park, too!

Over Spring Break, 1969, we moved to Lake Forest, Illinois. Kiddle's was the bike shop there. I am proud to say that my first W-2 was from Kiddle's. I didn't work there more than a few months. The owner even offered to send me to the Schwinn Repair School in Chicago! But, sad to say, we were already planning our move away from Lake Forest by then.

Soon after our arrival in Lake Forest, I got the Raleigh catalog from Kiddle's and studied it thoroughly. I decided the Super Course was the bike for me and somehow saved up the money to buy one - surely with help from my parents, though I sure don't remember the specifics anymore! I know I rode that bike to summer school and over to Lake Forest college all the time. A side note - that was at the beginning of my computing experience - I was a regular on the IBM 1130 at Lake Forest college. I was fascinated by the closed solutions for cubic and quartic equations and had those written up in Fortran. I don't think I ever bothered to check my solutions, though! I try to do better nowadays!

The really big ride I remember from those days was a three day camping trip. I think there were four of us: John Gwynn, John Evers, Mark Recktenwald, and myself. We rode from Lake Forest up into Wisconsin, somewhere around Lake Geneva. We all would have liked to visit the Yerkes Observatory there but we just didn't have time. We must have been a sight, our tents and sleeping bags crudely strapped on our bike racks! I remember pulling into a Wisconsin State Campground in the dark, and the ranger's office was closed. We were all top students, but I think Mark was deputized to write the note: "We, a group of campers..." We found the picnic area and set up our tents well away from the RVs with their blaring radios or whatever people used in 1970. I also remember riding with a stomach ache from eating under-cooked pancakes from our campground breakfast. Were we cooking with Sterno?

In 1971 we moved to Fort Wayne. My main riding partner there was Mike Short. Ah, I remember attempting a century then. I bonked at about mile 85 and took the sag wagon the rest of the way. I had the patch from that ride on the knee of my blue jeans for a few years after: "I rode to Hell and back!". I hear there's another town not too far away, also in Michigan, that's called Nirvana. We didn't get there, though! I remember too riding many times from our house in the southwest suburbs, down US 24 past the intersection with I-69, into the center of Fort Wayne, to hang out at the library. I got some good use out of my Super Course!

In 1973 I left home to go to college at Princeton in New Jersey. I locked my bike up in the cloisters of Holder Hall with a cheap cable lock and didn't really ride at all or pay attention to the bike. I guess it was early spring before I noticed that the bike was gone. It was a nice bike but I hadn't been riding it so it wasn't a huge tragedy.

I think it was at the end of first semester sophomore year - my physics lab partner told me he was selling his racing bike. He was upgrading to a Masi, as I recall. Wow, the bikes that were appearing in those days! So I bought his Legnano. Campagnolo Nuevo Record derailleurs, center-pull brakes - probably Weinberg - and sew-up tires! I think I bought that bike immediately after Christmas break. I took it out on a ride... all the way out, a freezing rain began. I remember coming back toward Princeton on Route 206 and slipping and falling and landing sprawled out on the highway. It was busy enough with tractor-trailors and every kind of traffic, but somehow right that moment an angel must have been watching. I got back up and tried to walk with the bike but the road was so slippery I couldn't even walk on it!

Probably my longest ride in Princeton was out to the ocean, to Asbury Park. I remember riding over through Lambertville and down along the Delaware River, too.

Ah, the summer of 1976, I worked out in Grand Junction, Colorado. I was doing some programming work for Ken Deffeyes and Ian MacGregor, two geology professors. Mostly we'd commute by car, from the Mesa College dormitories where we stayed, to the ERDA labs where we worked. But for a week or two I was on my own. I recall that I borrowed a bike from one of the ERDA administrators for my commuting in that interval. I remember riding a bit on the back roads around the edges of Grand Junction.

I moved to Philadelphia in 1977 for graduate school. I remember taking the Legnano out for longer rides - sometimes for laps of the classic East and West River Drives, other times out to West Chester or Paoli. The Legnano isn't any kind of urban utility bike, though! I know I used a variety of old coaster brake bikes that seemed to appear out with people's trash from time to time. I remember riding no-hands in the middle of the night on one such bike, from 3rd and South St., after seeing some jazz, back to home in West Philadephia. Riding no hands up over the South St. bridge was the biggest challenge but not so difficult. I really pooled my pennies at one point and bought a new Panasonic five-speed urban bike. This bike was a bit of a technology experiment - the freewheel mechanism was in the bottom bracket, so you could shift the derailleur while you were coasting! But this bike got stolen after less than a year. Better to use a junk bike for running errands!

In 1982 I moved up to Poughkeepsie, NY, to work for IBM. My Dad loaned me his Schwinn Collegiate 5-speed bike to get around until I could afford a car. I remember riding that bike from downtown Poughkeepsie, where I lived, to the IBM education building south of the main site. I remember holding a duffle bag with my laundry across the handlebars, riding to the laundromat. How long did it take me to get that Schwinn back to my Dad? I still had the Legnano then, too. I remember riding up to Rosendale and then around the back side of the Shawangonks and then up and over, by Mohonk Mountain House. That Legnano did not have low gears! I remember riding up to Rhinebeck, too.

I spent a year or so in Cambridge, MA, in 1991. Already I had some kind of mountain bike. I remember riding that in Dutchess County a bit and how much more work it was to ride than the Legnano. But for the potholes and trolley tracks of the Boston area, the mountain bike worked great. I doubt that I even brought the Legnano to Boston - it must have stayed in Poughkeepsie.

I was on a long meditation retreat from late 1992 through early 1996. I stored a lot of my stuff but I sold a lot too - both the mountain bike and the Legnano moved on. My sister worked for a while at Bicycling magazine in Emmaus, PA. I think that's where the Legnano went.

I headed to the Portland, OR, area after retreat. I was low enough on funds and Portland looked like a good bike riding town, so my plan was to do without a car. I stayed a month or so beforehand with my sister in California. I found a Trek 520 there and had it shipped up to Oregon. I wish I had waited and bought my 520 up in Oregon, but I wasn't sure what would be in stock etc. and I didn't want to risk being without wheels.

The 520 served me quite well in Portland. I could ride over the West Hills from Hillsboro, where I lived, into downtown Portland, load up with books at Powell's, and haul them home. Usually coming home I would take Terwilliger and Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. Up and over Cornell going west with panniers full of books - too much for me! I remember too some rides into the countryside. I especially remember my one ride up Laurelwood Hill. I had no idea what I was getting myself into! But it was a clear day, and at the top I was rewarded with a spectular view of five peaks - Ranier, St. Helens, Adams, Hood, Jefferson. Wow!

Somehow in Portland - well, I had a good job and so I could afford it - but I worked my way up to three bikes: a folding bike and a bombproof Amsterdam city bike along with the 520.

In 2007 I moved back east, into the Catskills Mountains. Lots of busy narrow twisty roads here! But slowly I am working out routes to get places while avoiding the most dangerous roads. This past spring I was delivering census questionnaires. My sweetheart's teenage son has a mountain bike which I used for a decent fraction of the work. Those fat tires and low gears are really handy for the private roads that snake up the valleys here! So that has got me thinking about a bike I can use for grocery shopping, for hauling real cargo up the mountain slopes - up Dug Hill Road!

No comments:

Post a Comment