Do I display garish bright colors and logos emblazoned across my fashionable biking apparel when I go riding? Not so much.
For one thing, the bike I ride is an ancient 3 speed English racer, the same bike my Grandpa bought me when I was 14 years old. Forty five years later in 2011, I still ride it with pleasure almost every day. It's on its third set of wheel bearings, third chain, and second rear sprocket; the first sprocket having had its teeth worn down into little thin curved-over spikes, from the endless miles I've put on the bike since I was a kid. The original steel wheel rims were scored and dented from numerous mishaps with a curb or pothole, and then from banging on it with a hammer to get the creases back out.
I've had a few spectacular wipeouts on that bike. Once, I was racing to beat a yellow light at an intersection, and bearing down on the petals. The road at that point crossed a set of railroad tracks at an oblique angle, and as I flew through the intersection in front of the waiting cars, the front wheel of the bike got caught in the recessed groove of the railroad track, yanking the wheel sideways and jerking it out from under me. I was propelled over the handlebars at high speed. Amazingly, I never lost my balance; I landed on my sneakered feet running, aware of the bike behind me crashing end over end in the road. I felt the pain of the bike bashing into the pavement, even though (gratefully) my own body hadn't been hurt, except where my shin scraped the handlebar going over. I wheeled around running, retrieved the bike out of the intersection as the light was changing, and hopped on to the seat, pedaling fast. The people in the waiting cars had a perfect view of the whole thing. As I had scooped up the bike, I had caught the eye of the driver in the first car; his eyes were stretched in amazement. I waved and shouted as I rode off, "It's hell on the bike, though."
The bike was still rideable, but just barely. The front wheel was crazed and it could barely go around, for wobbling and rubbing; I couldn't have gone far, but I didn't have far to go to get home.
That summer I was working in a bike shop, and there I had learned how to lace up a wheel: hub, spokes and rim. Even before the accident, I had been thinking of new alloy rims for my bike, so now that I had totally destroyed my front wheel, I bought light alloy rims, and I laced the new rims on to the original hubs, using the same spokes except for the couple that had broken. When you are tightening up the spokes on a new wheel, you can tune them by plucking like a harp string; you tighten the spokes until they all ring close to the same note; then you make fine adjustments as you turn the wheel, truing it up until it goes around steady as a rock. After rebuilding the wheels, I sadly discarded the battered old steel rims; they had served their time well.
My bike was now a real hotrod, lighter, and with new brake pads brakes that worked smoothly without all that chattering over dents. At this time I also replaced the chain and rear sprocket, and now pedaling was whisper-quiet. Everything else was well maintained and lubricated; I'd recently put on new cables and replaced the wheel bearings; now I also hammered out the dents in the fenders and painted them, and I did many other custom touches too numerous to mention. That bike was as good as a bike gets. It had been my first bike, and I still loved it.
During that bike-shop summer, my mentor at the shop had spent a small fortune on a French 10-speed racing bike, a LeJune, that you could lift up with one finger. He was as proud as Lucifer of that bike, and rightly so I guess. But one day, he and I had an impromptu sprinting race, me on my 3-speed, and I beat him on his fancy LeJune, by a nose. His dismay was apparently so great that when I attempted to gloat about the event to some friends a few days later, he actually claimed he didn't remember it.
I still own the same bike that I've maintained, ridden and loved all these years. To be perfectly accurate, I still own it in spirit; it's not the same piece of metal. The actual machine in all its cherry perfection and glory, was stolen from my house when I was in my forties, living in the city. Drunken kids stole it one New Year's eve, and probably rode it for an hour and ditched it somewhere on the street, where it was probably trashed and carted away. I still scan every bike rack I see when I'm in the city, hoping by a miracle to find my cherished old machine again.
Yes. But soon after the bike was tragically stolen, I was given an old 3-speed; a junker, but it was the identical make, model and year (1965) of my lost one, in almost every detail. This bike was in really bad shape; rusty and cranky, with brake levers that had to be squeezed with the coconut-crushing grip of a gorilla, but the bike ran, so I just put on new tires, ran some oil down the cable casings and into the wheel and crank bearings, and used it like that for a few years. Eventually, I did an extensive restoration job on it; the money I spent on parts alone would have bought a new bike. As a matter of fact, when I was buying and ordering all the parts I needed, the man at the bike shop was a bit hesitant, and he kindly tried to dissuade me from trying to make a new clunker out of an old clunker. But I explained the situation, and then he understood; then he helped me willingly. So I fixed up everything the bike needed, including lacing on new alloy rims just as I had done the first time. When I was done, I had my bike back; it was just as good as my original. The continuity is unbroken, so to speak, and I call it the same bike my Grandpa bought me.
So: the Uber-Bikers: just recently out here in Concord, MA, I was coming home from a ride, and I pulled up to a stop sign where I had to wait while a pack of about 12 spandex-clad bicyclers whooshed by. They all had matching body suits in clashing primary colors, and teardrop-shaped helmets; the helmets are presumably designed to give an extra one-half gram of thrust, by way of decreased wind resistance. As they rapidly approached me, their faces were immobile, inscrutable behind silver-rimmed sunglasses, and their glance didn't deviate an inch to acknowledge my bluejeans, flannel shirt, and headgear of faded baseball cap, as I waited at the stop sign.
After they passed, I pulled out and cranked it until I was just behind the last man in the pack, since I was going in that direction. I'm not so good for a long haul at that speed, but I'm good for a sprint, so I kept up behind them as we barreled along, my old English racer and blue-jeaned figure like a decrepit wooden caboose on a bullet train. I don't know what they thought of it, whichever of them even noticed, but I found it to be an interesting situation as I kept the hammer down and stayed close behind the last man.
Presently, I noticed the lead man make a signal to the man just behind him in line. He dropped his left arm down, forefinger motioning down and inwards: point-point. The signal got passed back in line, each to the next man as they raced along: Point-point, point-point. As I got up to it, I saw that the signal was meant to indicate a storm-drain grating in the road, and to watch out for it as you passed. The signal came to the last man, the one directly in front of me.
Until now, he had given no indication that he was aware of my presence speeding along behind him. But as the signal reached him, he dropped his left arm down and made the signal to me; point-point: watch out. In an instant, my heart swelled with pride and pleasure. The lone wolf, the black sheep, has been accepted into the pack! Suddenly the clashing primary colors on the spandex of the riders up ahead didn't seem so jarring; these were my colors too; this is my tribe! They've accepted me! I pumped along behind the pack, my faithful machine running smoothly and solidly under me.
All too soon we arrived at my destination, the driveway to my house, and I peeled off from the pack, with a grateful wave to the rapidly receding backs.
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