In late August, 2011, I bought my wife an Electra Townie single-speed bicycle and myself a Trek Navigator 1 so we could ride together on the streets of our quiet neighborhood. Surprised and happy was I when my wife immediately took her bicycle for a ride the afternoon I brought it home. She does not much like exercise activities or the idea of exercise for its own sake. For my own part, I immediately began to ride the streets of our neighborhood trying to figure out a circuit that would cover every bit of distance without doubling back on itself that included some of the subdivision’s gentle uphill grades.
Just outside the neighborhood there’s a bike path that runs maybe a couple of miles, total, and I pretty soon started riding out on it after making circuit within my subdivision. Gently rolling hills were at first a challenge, but not for very long. Regarding the bike path, too many pedestrians upon it for safe travel – they naturally assume it is a sidewalk (although signs declare it a bike path), so I started riding in the street. But before getting out on the street, I bought a bike helmet – a pumpkin-sized Bell Faction that made me look like Bob Dole (or sillier) in a tanker’s helmet. Prior to that, I’d been riding around in Stepford Country Club hat my grandfather had had for probably 40 years – with the brim turned up all the way around. I looked way, way, way cooler in the country-club hat than anybody has ever looked in a bicycle helmet, but the thought of brain injury and the various Rancho Levels decided me in favor the helmet. I started riding to worship services.
I pedaled all winter in all weathers because a) my skin is pretty much water-proof, and b) I need exercise all year round and much prefer strenuous, outdoor activities for all around fitness and health to those practiced indoors. I bought some cheap winter cycling tights from Sierra Trading Post, and wore under them the polypropylene long-underwear I purchased a hundred years ago when I lived at Portland, Oregon, and also with some hand-me-down fleece and winter running togs I already had. With a Planet Bike rear rack and SKS fenders, the Navigator was a great winter ride – with a couple of drawbacks. First, the so-called comfort seat isn’t really comfortable at all after one gets used to riding – it impedes full leg extension on the downstroke. Second, the bike fat tires and wide wheels make for a stable, predictable, but generally slow ride. I got to the point where I wanted to cover longer distances in less time and wanted a larger range of gears.
My friend, Eric, gave me his 1985 mid-range Razesa bike with Esge rack, Triplex panniers, Stronglight crankset (with lock-tight fused on English pedals), Shimano 600 rear derailleur, Weinmann brakes and rims, etc, Simplex downtube shifters, and 12 speeds. I gave him a kayak I hadn’t been using, although he’d asked nothing in return for the bike. I’ve changed the bike some, but it is a great bike on which I began taking 15 to 20 mile trips regularly. I got the bug for a road bike in Selma, Indiana, during the fall/winter months of 2011 when I rode a 1979 or so Raleigh Grand Prix and thought it was pretty cool, even though I didn’t understand how the gears worked. I’d been unable to ride bikes like that when I was a kid and had a Schwinn Stingray – the gears didn’t make sense to me and I had zero motivation to figure them out since we were all basically ruining our Stingrays to make “moto-cross” bikes out of them with different handlebars, seats, pedals, and so forth. What a revelation about 40 years later to find that the bikes we’d always termed “derailleurs” were interesting enough to put my mind around and learn to ride.
When you’re new to something, you tend to take advice from people who seem credible. My neighbor, Charles, a long-time bike guy with a shed full of relatively high-end bicycles, cautioned me against clips and clip-less pedals saying a number of people he knew broken collarbones using them.
One of the problems with the ancient Spanish bike – a bike shop somewhere had loc-tighted English threaded pedals onto French threaded Stronglight crankset, so that when I wanted to use a different set of pedals on the bike, it was impossible because the ones it came with were fused on at the threads. So, in addition to learning about threading, cranksets, and other oddments, I got a Shimano 600 Biopace crackset so I could use different pedals (Shimano 600 because the bike’s rear derailleur is Shimano 600 and it was what my local mechanic recommended) but the Biopace cranks were just an oddball bonus. At least that’s how it turned out, in my estimation. Probably the best thing I did early on was replace the many years old Michelin racing slicks with a set of Continental Gatorskins – a great, puncture resistant tire.
The Razesa’s quill-stem was almost fused or rusted into place, but once it came loose, I was able to raise the handlebars sufficiently that when I was also able to raise the seat, likewise nearly rusted in place, I was able to ride with much greater comfort. I eventually replaced the goofy-looking and pumpkin-like Bell Faction helmet with a similarly priced, more typically goofy-looking Specialized helmet with better adjustment features. I bought some bib-shorts and a cycling jersey marked-down at Amazon and Sierra Trading Post, respectively.
Wanting a little bit heavier bike that I could take on long rides that involve camping (if I manage to find suitable racks for it), I bought an even older Miyata 610. This bike’s frame is larger – maybe 58 centimeters – than the Razesa (56 cm). I took it for a six or seven mile test ride at Louisville, Kentucky, before buying it. The bike’s condition, the manufacturer’s attention to detail, and the fact that I’d read about this model bike for a month and a half decided me on it over the Ross Gran Tour of similar vintage with complete curlicue Shimano 600 groupo that the seller, Michael at Old Bikes Belong, also had on hand.
Back in mid-September, when I started writing this post, I’d participated in my first long bike ride. Long for me was 50 miles of the Highland Rim Bicycle Club’s Elk River Century. A friend and I signed up for it. Hills like the land had been accordianed in a car wreck. That’s me in the picture above riding the Razesa through part of Moore County. We got rained on hard later in the day. Back in July I wore the same silly-looking outfit while riding the same bike through Indiana farmland in triple-digit temperatures. While at the farm, my father-in-law gave me the 1974 or so Raleigh Sprite he’d had in Honolulu (as evidenced by the bicycle license plate hanging from the seat). It’d been in one of the barns for probably 20 years. The tires held air when I pumped them up and I rode it around a bit in the drive. It’s in my garage now, in pieces, awaiting the powder-coater’s attention. Day before yesterday, Saturday 6 October, I broke out a pair of winter tights and rode about 15 miles through the cold-seeming Fall drizzle on the surface streets of some of Stepford’s more uppity neighborhoods.