Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A trip down memory lane on crappy bikes of yore

I was discussing a bike build with a fellow rider, firing off some long lost odd neurons somewhere way back in my psyche.

I remembered a couple of old bikes from days past. When I first learned to ride a bike it was an old hand-me-down from three older brothers, a blue Sting-ray type bike (I don't think it was a Schwinn, but maybe a close copy), banana seat, wheelie bar and everything. I learned to ride it in the back yard. I'd have to admit, I learned to ride a bit late in life at the ripe old age of eight.

When I was in my early teens, the country was in the midst of the 70's bike boom ten-speed craze. I wanted a 'real' bike, but for some odd reason I didn't want a 10 speed. We lived on a gravel road and I was afraid that skinny ten speed tires wouldn't cut it. My 12th-ish birthday present (or maybe Christmas, I don't quite remember which), I got a campus green Schwinn Varsity with fat tires and a 3 speed Sturmey-Archer hub, completely pimped. Full steel fenders, Pletscher rack, Cateye bottle generator with a tailight and this huge square headlight, and a big plastic mechanical Stewart-Warner speedometer that went way up to 50 or 60 mph. Rest assured, I never got the bike going nearly that fast, especially not on gravel!

I must have ridden that bike up and down that gravel road past our house at least a million times. It was extra cool to ride at night, bottle generator whining against the rear tire. If I felt extra adventurous I'd ride up the hill to the next intersection and ride on the dirt road. When I was in eighth grade, a friend with a 10 speed and I decided to take a road trip. We hit the county fact some of the roads I ride regularly today. I'd say we probably rode at least 40 or 50 miles that day, the longest distance I'd ever ridden up to that point. The Schwinn performed quite admirably.

As soon as I was old enough for a learner's permit, the Schwinn went into the shed. I had cars and motors on the brain, typical rural farm kid mentality. I never thought about bikes again until I hit college.

I had a car in college, but of course you couldn't park on campus. Plus, it was a long way to walk from my off-campus dive to school. I could take the bus, but of course I would be tied to their routes and timetables.

A bike! Lots and lots of bikes on campus. No need for a parking space and plenty of convenient bike racks placed right where I needed to be. One of my roommates and myself went to the Bike Barn in Boone, Iowa and picked up a couple of bikes. His was a brand new bike, an expensive Italian brand. I cannot for the life of me remember what brand of bike it was, but it was shiny and red and really nice. My ride was a bit more pedestrian. I picked up a used Zebrakenko Golden Sports 10-speed, black, with stem mounted shifters and a huge shiny chrome pie plate. I think it set me back about 125 bucks.

His bike was stolen approximately 2 weeks after we bought them, chain cut and bike gone. He then proceeded to buy a 70's vintage Honda 750-4 motorcycle, which of course was much more difficult to carry off :>)

My bike lasted through 5+ years of college (Leisurely curriculum). I locked my bike up as well, but the Zebrakenko wasn't nearly as interesting to potential thieves and the cheap chain I used to lock my bike was more than sufficient to keep it secure. The bike recieved much gratuitous abuse, curb jumping, left out in the snow and rain...all the normal things an early twenty something might do. Maintenance consisted of squirting WD-40 on the rusty drivetrain, hopping on the bike and riding it.

Even with all the indifference towards the care of my bike, it never let me down. I may have made a couple of minor adjustments, and certainly changed several tubes, but it was always ready to go. I rode the crap out of that bike, but I never really rode it for pleasure. It was a transportation device and for that, it definitely paid for itself and then some.

When I got my first real job out of college, I took the bike with me when I moved to Kansas City. I even attempted to ride it to work several times. This proved dangerous and impractical, and I ended parking the bike under the stairs of my apartment complex where it promptly sat and rusted. When I moved, the bike stayed. For all I know, it's still there!

I wouldn't even think of parking one of my bikes outside now, and I've tinkered more with the bikes I have now in the last couple of years than I ever tinkered with that old Zebrakenko. I'm kind of wishing now I'd kept that bike, along with the old green Schwinn.

Maybe I'm just a bit sentimental, after all!


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