Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Reprinted with permission of iheartbikes.

Below is an article I wrote for the first issue of a currently defunct magazine called iheartbikes. This appeared in the first issue and gives you a little bit of my bike history and why I love cycling as much as I do.

If you are reading this first issue of this new magazine, then it is likely that you have memories of other cycling firsts. Maybe you picked this publication, instead of another, because you remember your first bike and that love of first freedom and the feel of wind in your face or your first fall. It could be because of the first time you saw a bicycle as something more than mere machine and saw it as art, or a tool, or even as a holy shrine for all of your prayers and worship.

I really don’t know which first is more important or sticks out most vividly for me. I certainly remember that first crash. 5½ or 6 years old, I was “riding” my older neighbor’s 10 speed. He sat me on the bike and my shoes were at least a foot away from the pedals. Holding the bike and I up, he gave us a little push down the hill, reminding me how the brakes worked. I don’t know if the training wheels were even off of my own bike yet, so I was decidedly wobbly. The bike and I shot down the street, then through an empty lot that was full of trees and sticker bushes. Right at the moment we were approaching terminal velocity, we entered the next yard via air as the bike and I plowed into the chain link fence. I vaguely remember the landing, but I clearly remember the bike dangling upside down from the fence and strips of denim on the top of the fence. If my memory serves me correctly, I think that is when I swore off ever crashing again.

The first bike of my own thst I have any memory of had a blue denim to rusty orange fade paint job. The big banana seat was covered in denim colored vinyl, complete with faux stitching and seams. I’m pretty sure it came from Sears, so it would have been a Free Spirit. I always loved that name, even as kid, just because I’ve always loved the word free. (Free is a word most cyclists I have known have loved; “free is for me” is what we used to say so frequently in the shops I worked in. Most Bike Geeks love free stuff.) That denim bike and I weren’t allowed to leave the neighborhood, but we traveled thousands of real and imaginary miles. Up to then, the only possession I had ever loved so much was my Big Wheel trike. I wore holes through those wheels doing power slides!

The first bike I ever had with brakes and gears was a beautiful blue Free Spirit three speed. That bike was my first vehicle of purpose. We went to friend’s houses, around town, on errands and on countless fishing trips. There’s no way I could possibly calculate the number of times I rode away from home with a tackle box in one hand and a rod and reel in the other. At that point, I still loved fishing more than anything else, but the bike was number two because I went nowhere without the bike. Bike equaled fishing, so I loved the bike. I loved the bike until I noticed loose spokes in the rear wheel and tightened the nipples with my Dad’s crescent wrench until a loud snap rendered the wheel into my first spoked taco. To this day, I don’t true wheels.

After the unfortunate demise of the three speed’s rear wheel, my next bike was purchased from a friend of mine for just $10.00. It would be the first of many bike purchases to follow over the years. This was another banana seat bike with a too cool spray paint finish. It was matte black with gloss white details and shiny chrome bars and trim. This bike was responsible for many crashes and my first taste of speed. We were a rocket, a blur of skinny arms and legs. I raced that bike around my neighborhood, like I had my own giant velodrome. I remember sprinting down the street in a late Alabama summer in the pouring rain, wearing just cutoff denim shorts and no shoes. I was the wind! I was faster than lightning, but was soon sliding down the street beside the bike and in front of an awe struck neighbor. I walked away mostly untouched from that one, apparently protected by the thick sheet of water on the street. The crash that put a wedge between my Mom and my burgeoning cycling career took place on this bike. We crashed hard, really hard, on Family Portrait Day after my mother warned me to stay clean. She didn’t say anything about jumping ramps with my friends; she always lacked that definite clarity when I was growing up. It’s amazing what a 20 foot slide across the asphalt on your face, after a brief flight over the bars, can do to your appearance. My mother still points the picture out and describes the cake of make-up she had to apply to my face to try to hide the abrasions on my cheeks. What you can’t see in the picture is the dinner-plate sized scab that was forming on my bony chest.

1982 was a pivotal year in my life, for a number of reasons. The two biggest being that my parents divorced and I saw Breaking Away for the first of many, many times. I saw it on television and it changed my life. Just as Dave, the main character, used cycling to escape into his Italo-crazy world, I wanted to escape what was happening in my life. From the moment I saw that movie, I wanted to be identified as a Cyclist and I started buying and reading the few magazines available to me and started hanging out at the local bike shop. Still, I only had my little ramp-jumping, coaster brake equipped, Rustoleum colored bike. I dreamed of the Colnagos, Cioccs and Guerciottis advertised in the glossy pages of the magazines. I called every mail order company and manufacturer listed in the back pages of my well-worn magazines and requested catalogs and brochures that would become dog-eared or had the pictures cut out and taped to my bedroom walls. I test rode every Peugeot at the local shop and eventually began working there, since I was there every day anyway.

It was about 1984 when I actually got my first 10 speed. I had effectively drilled into my parent’s heads that the thing I wanted most in the world, was a new bike and I dreamed that it would be foreign and exotic. It was foreign, though far from exotic. That Christmas I was given a heavy, welded steel Ross with foam bar covering, bolt-on wheels, safety brake levers and a kickstand. However, it was deliciously red with metallic paint and it was new and it was mine. I thanked my Dad over and over that day and should thank him again now. The kickstand came off at some point during the day and I slept with the bike in my room, just barely out of reach of my finger tips.

Over the next two years I logged thousands of miles on that bike and put every dollar I earned into quick release brakes with gum rubber hoods, custom wheels with quick release hubs, a new seat post and saddle, new bars and stem and new tires several times over. My best friend had a Schwinn Collegiate and we set out on epic rides of 100 miles and more, frequently riding all the way to the edge of Florida from our tiny southern Alabama hometown. We didn’t know anything about races, racing, or training, but we rode every weekend we could as far as we could.

By 1986 I had finally earned enough money working at the bike shop, mowing lawns, washing cars and raking leaves to buy a nice, but inexpensive Peugeot. We had to order it from the distributor because we didn’t have my size in stock, so I had to wait an eternal two weeks for its arrival. On the day it arrived, I went straight home from school and shaved my legs for the first time (without soap or water). I ran the three miles to the shop with the cycling clothing and shoes I had and built the bike after opening the box like a long-buried treasure. The paint was flawless and clean, wrapped in foam and cardboard. In my rush to finish the bike and get out on my first ride, I failed to tighten the left side crankarm bolt, so the crankarm came off during the ride with my foot securely strapped to the pedal. The bolt was long gone and my mother, who already wasn’t crazy about my cycling addiction, had to pick us up, 20 miles from home. I went to the shop, with the stink of stupidity and haste sticking to me, and found a replacement bolt and very securely attached the crankarm.

I trained for races that didn’t exist with the few other cyclists in town, most of whom were much older than me and traveled to real races. Even with no real races in my immediate future, I bought my first racing license and trained every day. That summer, in 1986, while staying with my father before moving to California with my mother, I entered my first race. It was the Alabama State Olympics and we had about 13 boys in the field of 15-17 year olds. The race was held in the huge, hilly parking lot of a shopping center and we did about 15 laps. The boy won broke away on the very first lap and I can still remember the boy behind me telling all of us to “let him go, he’ll die on the hill!” I never saw him again until he was standing on the podium collecting his gold medal, while I waited for my silver.

Since those formative years, I have had many other firsts, including my own race wins. I’ve had a first mountain bike, first track bike, first ride with my son, first ride with my daughter in her trailer, first ride of the winter, first race among the pros and one of my favorite firsts; first ride of the year in new team clothing.

So as you thumb through the pages of this first issue, try to remember the firsts that made you love the bicycle and think of all the seconds and thirds and 1,263rds that await you and your bike.

It is my hope that iheartbikes will come back in one form or another. A lot of people got behind it and what it was all about. I won't let the owner of the title get any sleep until he yields to the masses and brings this baby back into the world. No pressure though... you know who you are.



The Donut Guy said...

Good stuff.

I'm 45 so if you change the dates from the 80's to the early 70's..........that would be me instead :-)

I had the advantage of having a dad that managed a retail store that sold bikes. I was like a kid in a candy store growing up.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea what you are talking about and I do not remember giving you permission. It's still rolling around in my head.