Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bikes I have known

Words about my current and former bikes

This is a glossary of the language of bicycles I've had stretching back to the second bike I ever bought on purpose. Before that my parents provided my bikes, usually as a result of lucky purchases from farm, estate, surplus, and police auctions. It's intentionally a bit coy because it's not about the makes and models as much as it is about the experiences they've given me.

The sport bike (traded)

The bike that got me through college. I no longer recall where I got it or when except as a range: somewhere in Illinois, sometime between 1981 and 1984. Silver with blue accents. It hung off the back of my cars for two epic cross-country trips. It was stolen at one point, but recovered because the thief was wanted for a parole violation or something - instead of getting caught he threw it at the officer. I explored Chicago on this bike before I realized that was unusual. Notable quality: it had a kickstand.

The mystery bike (broken)

I traded the sport bike for tax on my first high-quality bike in 1988, at a strange and tiny shop on the Chicago side of the Evanston line. Metallic green model paint. The shop imported semi-finished frames, had them painted cheaply, and built them up with excellent parts. Legend - or marketing - held that these were the bikes "the president of Campagnolo rides". This makes little sense, but was convincing to me at the time. (This shop also imported and sold one of my dream bikes, the Durseley-Pederson replicas of that era.) No decals or markings, and only a pantographed quill stem to indicate the brand. The bike I was sold came with Campagnolo parts and excellent Mavic wheels, with a Brooks saddle. I crashed the bike into a tree, which led to a crimp in a tube, which turned into a crack a year later and ended the life of this bike. Notable quality: many of those parts remained in daily use on other bikes for years following.

The dumpster bike (discarded)

My mystery bike broke in 1989 while I was living in near-poverty in a two room apartment, and I couldn't afford a replacement. I still prowled the bike shops though, and one day outside Chicago's second most eclectic bike shop I spotted a mechanic throwing away a perfectly good frame (silver-grey with pink accents didn't help). He explained that they had purchased a batch of previous year's bikes just to strip the parts for resale and had no use for the frames, so he handed me one in my size, and all I needed to do was graft my components onto it. This was a bit daunting, since my only understanding of how such parts were supposed to work came from taking the mystery bike apart, but it served me well for a year or so. Notable quality: the shop is also a bicycle museum, and I was drafted into riding second stoker on a Santana triple bike one Earth Day before joining the shop race team.

The steel racer (now frame only)

Purchased in 1992 in Evanston, ridden for everything on-road for nearly a decade. White with red and black trim. The bike I raced on that one season before I admitted I'm not a fast rider. It was on the small side, so it was never comfortable, but I used to knock down at least 50 miles a day on it for "training". It seemed to be a natural for my first organized century ride several years later - which led to a week of physical difficulties because I was not in any shape let alone fit enough to enjoy 100+ miles on a too-small bike. Notable quality: it's now considered a collectable bike, even with the stem stuck in the fork.

The rigid mountain bike (sold)

Purchased (twice - the first got stolen the day I got it!) in 1993 in Oak Park after giving up my elitist notion that all bikes should be light, built for roads, and running skinny tires. White with red and black trim, again. Someone should have mentioned Illinois has no mountains. I did take it on a cross-country drive once, rode it in Summit County CO and Moab UT. Then I rode it as a commuter bike for a while, and eventually sold it to a beginner a decade later. Notable quality: When it was brand new I traded the pushbutton shifters for a new innovation from a local Chicago company: GripShift.

The hardtail mountain bike

Purchased in 2000 from a Georgetown shop, ridden daily for a couple of years on and off road. Grey on grey fade. It's a very nice hardtail, which saw its last ride in its original setup one snowy day in 2005 after which I neglected it and all its parts turned to rusty tumors. I had it rebuilt in 2010 or so with far better parts than it came with. It's now a dedicated off-road bike - which means it sees little use. Notable quality: switched from rim to disc brakes.

The scandium racer (broken)

Purchased in 2001 at an event, parts from a Georgetown shop. Blue-green. After my second organized century - a DNF due to a cluster headache attack - I purchased a race frame and built it up with race parts. In its previous version it was used in the TdF. Only problem was, it was designed for flyweight pro racers, and I'm not one. Unknown to me at the time, the flyweight pro rider who made it famous also broke one every day. Mine lasted a year, and broke just before the warranty was up. Notable quality: what was I thinking?

The aluminum racer

The warranty replacement for the scandium racer, the third incarnation of the original TdF frame. Blue-green with dark blue graphics. This time they got it right, so no scandium brittleness, no foam-filled tubes. Nearly all the race parts swapped straight over, and with a new stem that's slightly less aggressive it's not a bad ride for those days when I really want to conserve my effort - but I'm still skittish about it breaking from hard use. Notable quality: shark graphics.

The vintage beater (lost)

Purchased in 2005 as a frame plus a few parts at Trexlertown for all of $35, I loaded it up with vintage and well-loved parts from the spares bin. Blue with chrome. The previous owner was a DC messenger, so it had plenty of battle scars and a layer of blue rattlecan paint hiding its chrome lugwork, Columbus tubing, Campagnolo, and world champion stickers. This was my daily ride for several years, a bike I could confidently take anywhere without drawing undue attention, yet that turned heads among people who could see the hints of what was under the camouflage. Though it survived being locked up in high-theft areas, it disappeared from my back yard one night. Notable quality: I built the wheels a decade before I got a bike to use them with.

The welded steel fixed-gear (lost)

A gift in 2006, purchased from a Georgetown shop. Glitter-flake black, with cream panels. Bicycling mag called it the fixed-gear for the white-collar crowd, which aptly described what I wanted - no vintage conversions with bottom bracket lockrings for me. Being a fixed-gear, the build list is very simple: pedals, wheels, a frame, some brakes (after 20 years of developing panic stop reflexes that involved handbrakes I didn't want to risk grabbing for them and coming up empty). Stolen from the lobby of a burrito place while I debated between baracoa or carnitas. Notable quality: it was a gift!

The do-everything (broken)

Purchased mostly on a whim in 2008 from a Georgetown shop. Blacked out black. Designed as a frankenbike from the factory with a mountain bike frame and road bike wheels with disc brakes (but also usable with 26" wheels), it was a bike I could hurry on or haul things on or take off road or hang silly lights from, and that I could ride in all conditions. With fenders and rack it even made a solid commuter bike. Its fatal flaw was the completely unneeded suspension system, which required major and expensive maintenance every couple of years. It also didn't handle extremely cold weather well. Notable quality: the model name fit it perfectly.

The cyclocross bike

Purchased from a Georgetown shop as an equivalent insurance replacement for the welded fixed gear in 2012, because no other bike could actually replace that (or so I thought). Matte white with orange and grey trim. The stock parts list is similar to an entry-level road bike with a few ruggedized substitutions and a wide gear range. It's okay on hard pavement but it really comes to life on grass and trails, so it's the bike I take when I'm uncertain there's a good place to ride. I keep knobby tires on it, though they wear fast on roads and trails. Notable quality: my third white bike - still not a fan.

The lugged fixed-gear

Purchased in 2013, permitted in trade for my turn selecting a dog, from a Georgetown shop. Black and white. After giving up on finding a nice steel fixed-gear with classic geometry and features, I spotted this one in a catalog. A few inquiries later I found the only dealer in town that could bring it to me - and I had to act fast because it was the last one available in my size anywhere. The stock parts are moderately nice, but I've since replaced the bars and seat - wheels to come soon. I ride it only in nice weather, so it's not seen a lot of miles this winter. (Hit by a driver in a car in early 2014, no damage except the wheel.)


Stay tuned.

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for sharing your bike story i got my first bike when i am high school and than use it till college. You can check my passion by visiting my blog.