Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Favorite Bike

I have owned dozens of bicycles, and I have pined for and fantasy-built hundreds more. If someone asks me which is my favorite however, the answer is easy. It is this beat-up mid 1990's Trek 720. It's a 700c wheel hybrid that gradually acquired fenders, smooth tires and cut-down straight handlebar during its evolution toward daily beater/ city bike status. It is not particularly cool or aesthetically pleasing. Nobody looks at it and says, "Hey, nice bike!" A couple of years back, I was walking out of the annual Warren Miller film at The Bushnell with a small group of friends. One of the group, an avid cyclist from the suburbs asked with concern if I was under a constant threat of bike theft. I told her that I felt my bike was pretty safe. She was unconvinced until we reached the Trek locked to a signpost. "Oh, I see what you mean." she said.

In popular cycling lore, hybrids vie with "comfort bikes" as the dorkiest thing this side of a recumbent. I don't care who scoffs at it, I like it. This is my favorite bike because it has proven sturdy and reliable through hard, year-round usage in all kinds of weather. Finally, most significantly, this bike is an emotional favorite. Its sentimental value is off the charts.
This was my father's last bike.

My parents introduced me to cycling as a passenger around the age of two (the same year they first put me on skis) Around the age of 5, I got my own bike, a hand-me-down moss green Ross banana seat bike of a late 60's vintage. I grew up riding the streets and county park pathways with Mom and Dad, listening to the reassuring Sturmey Archer song tick-tick-ticking away on their matching brown his and hers early 70's Raleigh Sports 3 speeds (if his had not been sold at a family garage sale unbeknownst to me, it would be hands-down my favorite bike). When my Dad was approaching 70, he wanted more gearing choices for his aging knees, so he and my Mom bought a pair of 21-speed Trek 720 hybrids. By his late 70's his knees didn't feel up to bike riding anymore and he handed the well-preserved 720 off to me. I proceeded to give away the old Shogun road bike that had been my previous commuter and began riding the Trek full-time.

My father passed away this past April several days after turning 83. He was active to the end (mad props: he continued skiing through the age of 81), felled by a massive heart attack in Manhattan as he spent a night on the town with Mom for his birthday. We miss him terribly, but take great comfort and great example from a life well-lived. We should all do so well.

By this past spring, Dad's old Trek was a bit tired. Years of rain and road salt and hard usage had worn out two drivetrains and left two pairs of rims with gouged sides and rusted spokes. It seriously needed an overhaul, and as I began collecting new parts for it, I had an idea. My father was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts and lived his last decades in Glen Rock, NJ, with a quarter century or so spent in Brooklyn in the middle. I decided it would be both a fitting tribute and generally therapeutic for me to ride Dad's old bike from Glen Rock to New Bedford (via Brooklyn, of course) staying with friends and relatives or camping out along the way. This past Memorial Day was to be the original start date (apropos for honoring a WWII veteran) of my trip, but an employment opportunity arose that would have been foolish to pass up (I was unemployed at the time--2009 was not my favorite year in several ways). I began to disassemble the bike and got no further.

So now the bike sits in pieces, and I admit I've hit something of a mental block. I have a daunting surplus of goals stacked up for 2010 but I'm going to deem making this bike function again one of my first short-term resolutions. In addition to getting my cherished beater back on the road, I think this could be a fine opportunity to write some step-by-step how-to articles for the Beat Bike Blog. I think I will start with the wheels. I recently got a good deal on a new pair of Sun CR18 36 hole rims and have already spoken to a local shop with a solid inventory of spokes and knowledge. I plan on paying them a visit soon, and I'll surely keep you posted.


chillwill said...

great post. you are lucky, i wish i had a great introduction to bicycles like you did. much props to your parents.

i like the how-to article idea, a new step for the BBB. actually i like it a lot.

and lastly, but not leastly, i have a stripped bare 90's hybrid frame i am going to build up as the ultimate internal 3speed beach cruiser/bar bike/kayak tower/grocery getter!

good luck with the new project and keep us in the loop.

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