These are the tales of my lost and current loves, the bikes I have traveled with and the bikes that are in my dreams.
First Bike, '53-'59
My first bike in 1955.
first bike was 22-inch, West German, and red, which I was given for Christmas
in 1953, when I was eight. This bike did not have the false gas tanks or fake
springs that most children's bike had then, and banana seats and high-rise
handlebars were far in the future; it did have a long wheelbase and fat tires,
making it the equivalent of a one-speed mountain bike. I taught myself
how to ride by rolling down the grass lawn of a churchyard after I finally
convinced my father to take off the hated training wheels during the second
year (he probably thought I needed them because I was so small:
I was just 3' 6" at ten). For a while, because I learned to balance rolling downhill, I could ride
only downhill, while another kid on the block, due to the way he learned to
ride, could ride only uphill. This was my only childhood bike, and I was too
big to ride it by 14. Besides, in those days, we believed bikes were only for
children. In our play, I pretended it was a horse, an airplane, or whatever
I wanted it to be. I also invented a great game, which I called bicycle chase,
in which we pursued each other up and down the street, around the circle, and
into people's front yards, and through their backyards. I was very proud of my
cycling skills, doing all sorts of stunts such as riding no-hands, jumping off and
onto the moving bike like a trick horse, jumping the bike into the air off of a board
with one end resting on a concrete block, and even riding across the neighbor's
teeter-totter (which required me to balance standing still at the
perfect spot on the plank three feet above the ground while the teeter-totter slowly changed
from a steep uphill to a steep downhill). Yet I never once fell down --
not even when my handlebars came off while going down a small hill. At
one time, I made a skull and cross bones with the words "Dare Devil" which
I flew on a coat hanger until a jealous kid smeared it with dog crap. The
picture above was made in 1955; I was a proud, skinny, happy, little kid
with my bike. I would guess I rode 3,000 miles on this bike, never getting
more than a mile away from home.
Second Bike, '64-'67
My second bike
was a black three-speed English "racer," purchased during my second
year in college in November 1964 for $44. Most of that was money I had earned myself
at fifty cents an hour, but I had to get Mother to help me out a little.
At that time, bikes were scarce on a college campus. My reason for getting a bicycle again is a little odd. A friend of mine convinced me to take a summer job selling door-to-door by suggesting I could use a bicycle to travel between houses. The job didn't work out, nor did I need the bike, but the idea was in my brain. That fall, I borrowed another student's bike and rode 45 miles on the first day. But his bike soon had a flat which he was reluctant to fix. So, I had to get one of my own. I immediately started
using mine almost daily. I used it to explore the countryside, go birdwatching, to visit
swimming holes, to climb various steep roads (some of them dirt), to go
cave exploring, to get my groceries, and to go to class. On one occasion, I
was descending rapidly down a dirt road when I unexpectedly reached the main
road. I braked as hard as I could, and the back wheel slid past the front as I
stopped, so the bike stopped facing backwards. On one occasion, I used the bike to visit a cave, and I stayed inside several hours, digging out a narrow spot in the passage. When I
returned to the surface, I was shocked to find the world covered in snow, a rare event in Alabama. Before getting the bike, I had sometimes walked and hitchhiked the 28 miles to my parents' home. Now the bike gave me a quicker method, but my first trip
took four hours due to terrific headwinds that had me fighting for every foot. However, on another occasion, when I had strong
tailwinds, I made the first 25 miles in an hour flat. During the summer, I made
a trip of 100 miles in one day for the first time, so I decided to use the bike to
go camping in the Smokies (see "Bicycle Camping and Touring" for this 1965 trip).
On the trip, I recognized the need
for dropped handlebars and more gears so, as much as I loved this bike,
I bought a ten-speed after just one year. The bike "hung around" for a
couple of years, getting less and less use, and then I gave it to my sister's
kids who let it become part of their lives. Unfortunately, I have no pictures
of it, but I can see it as clearly in my mind as if I rode it this morning.
I traveled about 4,000 miles on it, the bulk in 1965, including
820 miles of new roads. I wrote the following poem about riding this bike:
The warm, wet
wind blows me along
As I ride my bike in the cream moonlight
Down the road that leads from my home.
The sky's black-blue, the clouds are white,
The stars are silver dots. To me belong
The night and sky, as all are 'sleep except for me,
Me and those puff clouds that smoothly roam,
And like them, I long to be free.
Third Bike, '65-'73
My third bike in 1966.
third bike was the famous (or infamous) Schwinn Varsity, 1965 model. For
years, my mother kept a picture on the wall of me at 21 standing with this
bike after my successful first trip to Canada; you now have the picture
in front of you, a photo of the cyclist as a young man. The bike was light-blue,
dropped handlebars raised as high as they would go on the 23-inch frame
but still lower than the seat, a bird feather stuck under the right brake
lever, big plastic speedometer that ran off a cable, a tiny generator light
mounted on the front wheel, an air pump that couldn't pump forty pounds,
water bottle cage, big plastic seat bag attached to the leather seat, 18-inch
long carrier, and of course the bright chrome fenders. The bike weighed
forty pounds but seemed indestructible. Outside of being heavy, the only
fault was in the gearing -- six useful gears and a Simplex derailleur that
missed a lot of shifts and shift levers that would tend to relax on a hill.
The low gear wasn't very low (39 x 28) and the high gear rather ambitious
(52 x 14), but since I didn't use toe clips and straps, my cadence must
have been low as well. I traveled 18,000 miles on it from 1965 to 1973,
when it was stolen, a third of that in 1966, and about 4,600 miles of new
roads. My greatest adventures with this bike are my trips to Canada and
to Spruce Pine, told in the touring section, but I had many shorter trips and
local adventures with it. While in college, I one time went exploring near
Cheaha Mountain and discovered a "hidden" waterfall and pool after traveling
ten miles down a dirt road. While skinny-dipping, I was approached by two
fellows who accused me of public nudity. They explained that a whole group
of people had arrived above the falls. Leaving sheepishly, I found a paved
road and a large sign announcing the falls just a short distance away. I stopped
to eat at a grocery store just down the road, when a gang of fellows from the falls
arrived to attack me. It seems that someone had robbed their vehicles after I left,
and they automatically assumed it was me. Somehow, I twice escaped a beating
and made it back home. When I revisited the store five years later, the owner told
me that the real thief had been caught elsewhere. About the time my son was born, eight years later, I was using the bike to make almost daily fishing trips to a small stream. I would put the fish in a pack on my back and carry them home. This bike was on the porch one night, just a few feet from my bed, when someone took it. I could not believe, for some time, that the bike was gone for good.
Honorable Mention, '73
Taking my son for a ride.
bike deserves honorable mention. Between the theft of the Schwinn in the spring
of '73 and the purchase of the Peugeot in October of the same year, I continued
to ride as normal. This was possible because I had purchased a second Schwinn
Varsity for my wife in 1971. This bike was brown, with a 21-inch frame,
brown fenders, upright handlebars, and a wide seat. It weighed about
45 pounds. After returning from our cycling trip in '71, she seldom
rode it, so it was very much available for me. In an attempt to convince
her to ride again, I had converted the handlebars to dropbars myself, mounting
the brakes so they'd work like safety levers. I managed to travel
about 1,500 miles on it during those months, but only 3 miles of new roads.
After my son was old enough to sit on a bike, I purchased a bike seat,
and so he and I continued to ride it right up to the divorce. Right after
the divorce, when he was 1½, I made my first trip to get him for
the weekend. He could not yet talk, but he grabbed me by the leg and pulled
me towards the garage where the bike was stored.
Fourth Bike, '73-'75
My fourth bike
was another famous bike, the Peugeot PX-10, a white bike. Although I had been looking
at this bike, it was my wife's decision to buy it for me (she made the first payment).
This was my first and only bike that would have been suitable for racing. On my first long bicycle
trip, all the kids asked me (speaking of my three-speed), "Is that a racing
bike?" On my second bike trip, all the kids asked me (speaking of my Varsity),
"Is that a racing bike?" Now, I had a real racing bike, and not one kid
ever asked me about it; it was just another ten-speed. Outside of the chrome-moly
frame and the 21-pound weight, this bike had no desirable characteristics
for a touring cyclist. I learned how to sew-up the sew-ups on the edge of the road
whenever they had their frequent flats. Tires cost $20 and did not have a long
lifetime (one set lasted just a week due to faulty stems; the dealer claimed
I had been careless and refused to take them back). One time, on a steep
downhill, I locked both front and back tires (the Mafac Racer brakes were superior
to today's fancier models), and the bike didn't even pretend to slow down
-- not enough rubber on the road. Before I changed the 14-21 rear cogset,
I was slowly pedaling at the back on the bike club ride, carrying on a
conversation, when a 10%+ hill suddenly appeared in front of us. I made
my apologies, and passed almost everyone on the climb -- I had to make
it at speed or walk! But, as soon as possible, I changed the rear derailleur
and cogset so I could manage long climbs. Mounting a child's seat on the
rear of this bike caused it to protest alarmingly, but mount it I did, ASAP
after the divorce, and my son and I made our last ride with the baby seat,
a 21-mile ride, while he was three. That October, the bike was stolen,
and I didn't know whether to be upset or grateful. I wondered who would
be so foolish to buy it. I have never looked twice at a racing bike since
then. Nonetheless, I put a lot of miles on it, including a camping trip
when I dragged a Bugger trailer behind me. Although the round trip was
just 112 miles, this was the longest bike trip I have ever made. I never
took a picture of this bike either. I owned it for two years and rode it
for 5,000 miles and about 400 miles of new roads.
Fifth Bike, '75-'86
My fifth bike in 1979.
next bike was bought shortly after the Peugeot was stolen in 1975. This
was a Motobecane "touring" bike. The safety levers and high tensile frame
revealed its plebeian nature. However, bikes were expensive at the time
and after having the PX-10 stolen, I did not want to invest as much money
in another. Actually, due to repeated burglaries, I rode this bike for
just one year before it went into my parent's basement where it sat unused.
In 1979, I built a cabin in the woods and moved my bike there. The picture
is inside the cabin while under construction (the picture was not taken
of the bike, hence the angle). Unfortunately, the cabin was also burglarized,
so the bike went back to the basement. In 1985, I was laid off my job and
returned to the cabin, hoping to make my living as a beekeeper. I soon
discovered that I could "make" more money riding a bike than selling honey;
that is, the amount of money saved by riding the bike was greater than
my income from honey. I rode this bike to death, unfortunately, traveling
down rough tar and gravel roads. I bought plastic fenders for it, but they
quickly tore up, so I bought some steel fenders, as on my Schwinn, and
later transferred them to another bike after 6,000 miles. Since I could
not carry supplies, my only overnight trip was to my parents' home. The
bike's last ride happened on June 24, 1986. Coming down a steep, pothole
covered mountain road at high speed, I heard an extremely loud crack that
scared me to death. Stopping, I could see nothing wrong. On the climb back
home that evening, I discovered the front chainrings to be wobbling badly
under load. Looking at the bottom bracket, I discovered four of the five
tubes cracked, including all three main tubes. The bike had traveled about
9,000 miles and 500 miles of new roads.
Sixth Bike, '86-Present
My sixth bike in 1989.
next morning, I left for Huntsville bright and early to get another bike.
I have told this story under "New Bike for $100,"
so I won't repeat myself. With my new Schwinn Voyager, I suddenly had a
new surge of interest in cycling. I had covered 2,800 miles since January,
but I covered nearly double that mileage before the end of the year, including
my first century ride in twelve years. Part of my increased mileage was
due to now having a bike that could carry camping gear, as I began making
cycling trips to see my son and my parents, avoiding the expense of driving
the van. In two years, I made eleven cycling-camping trips to see him,
totaling 3,200 miles, and five trips to visit my parents only, totaling
another 750 miles. Then, after getting a job in my parents' town, I started
using the bike to visit my cabin on weekends, a total of eight trips and
1,200 miles before the weather stopped me. In addition, all of my long
summer trips starting in 1988 have been made on this bike. It has now traveled
50,000 miles and 16,500 miles of new roads, thus traveling about half
of my total mileage and over two-thirds of my total miles of new roads.
Seventh Bike, '90-Present
My seventh bike in 1990.
story of my bikes includes one more. In 1986, when I had been looking at
touring bikes, I had seen a 25-inch Nishiki also. While having all the
latest touring features, such as cantilever brakes and eyelets for lowrider
front carriers, this bike did not impress me for some reason. But whenever
I was by the bike shop, I would stop and admire it. Before Christmas in
1989, the owner said to me, "I want you to buy this bike, and I want you
to get it out of here today." I said, "I don't need another bike, and I
don't want to spend the money." He said, "Look, I'll let you have the bike
for $275 plus tax, that's just a little more than half price, if you'll
take it today." Since my son didn't want it, and I couldn't turn down such
a good deal, I ended up with a second bike. Unlike my Voyager, the Cresta
has never been on a trip and has seen precious few miles of new roads.
Instead, I have used this bike around town and for short rides in the country.
I have also spent little on it, just changing the shifters, the rear derailleur,
and adding steel fenders, a front carrier, and a generator light. It still
has the original chain and rear cluster. Nonetheless, it has traveled 10,000
miles so far, including 180 miles of new roads. The picture of the bike
shows it during the first year, before I had mounted lights or found some
barcon shifters for it, but after I had made the other changes.
At present, I have
no further desire for more bikes. I generally do not crave new possessions unless
they fill a need, and the two bikes satisfy my need.
Over the years,
I have found some characteristics to be desirable, and I might mention
them here. Wide tires give better traction and last a little better too.
I prefer 27 x 1 3/8 tires (about 35 mm wide), and that is the size I used on my touring trips from 1986 to 1996. I don't like indexed shifting at all;
I never miss a shift using today's derailleurs and yesterday's Suntour
Barcons, which I have used on every bike starting with the PX-10 twenty-four
years ago. Barcons, which mount on the ends of the handlebars, allow one
to shift without letting go of the handlebars. I also mount my handlebars
level to provide more hand positions and several inches lower than the
seat. I started using foam on my handlebars in 1986; foam is extremely
comfortable for the hands. All my bikes except for the PX-10 had steel
fenders, which can cope with road shock indefinitely. After the first two, all my bikes had
the largest sized frame I could get; the Schwinn was 23 inch, and all the
later bikes were 25 inch, including the PX-10. I sit seven inches higher
than the frame, even though I am only six feet tall. I prefer high and
low gears, so both my bikes are set up with 100-inch high gear (52 x 14)
and 20-inch low gear (24 x 32). I use a halogen lamp, mounted on the front
carrier, and a flashing light rear. I have used toeclips and straps since
1985, and I am not interested in clipless pedals. (I used toeclips and
straps as early as 1972 or so, but found them a problem when carrying my
son on the bike, so I discontinued their use for many years).