Friday, September 19, 2008


Bicycles are magic.

This topic has been often explored by writers, both in explicit discussion of the subject and by weaving bicycles through a storyline. Three examples pop immediately to mind: Stephen King's novel It, Stephen Spielberg's movie E.T., and a recent Bicycling Magazine article I can't put my hands on right now.

That a collection of carefully arranged tubes married to a pair of spindly wheels can stay upright and in motion while supporting a person defies common sense. Certainly for kids trying to first master the art of staying upright and in motion, and probably for most adults, if asked to explain how it all works. But of course the real magic lies beyond the physics. A bike is the first tool many of us have access to which allows us to reach beyond the limits of our bodies. We can ride faster and range farther with a bike than we can run or walk. Even if those qualities aren't obvious to a kid, their effect imparts a degree of freedom and control that's pretty scarce in most kids' lives. And they can remain a powerful enabler through adulthood (and do, for millions). Even if as an adult you read this and can't really see the magic, I suspect you did back when you were 6 or 7. At any rate, they felt, and still feel, like magic to me.

I wanted to introduce some bikes in this post. I just put in a 90-mile weekend, riding to Tully Lake campground in Royalston, MA. I spent maybe four and a half hours getting out there on Saturday, with an hour or so less than that actually in the saddle. It was slow going, and I'm pretty sure I spent a lot of that time climbing. At a minimum, the terrain shifted from rolling to hilly as I headed west. Sunday was a 48-mile day, starting with a little tour around the area of the Tully Dam. The ride time home was 20 minutes shorter, at 3 hours 10 minutes, which makes the elevation change theory seem that much more likely. I overpacked, bringing a tent, a bunch of fleece blankets to fend off the cold, a stove, some clothes, shower gear and more, all dragged around by leg power.

This (and a similar tour of Martha's Vineyard years ago) is about as close to loaded touring as I've ever gotten. But even in that small set of experiences, bike touring seems to bring out good stuff in people. Even in frosty Massachusetts, people in small towns you ride through will stop and talk to you about your ride, and share a thing or two about their own bike experiences. Especially if you take off your sunglasses and helmet and look like a regular person for a few minutes. That alone is almost magic.

My ride for this trip was my all-rounder: a 1972 Schwinn Sports Tourer (sort of). It came into my possession as a frameset with a seat clamp, bottom bracket and headset last winter, and I spent the spring building it up with a relatively modern mix of components. I'll be spending a fair amount of time in this blog talking about my orange Schwinn, so I won't spend too much time on it now, except to say that I just love this bike.

I love all my bikes, of course. I have two others I call mine, and am caretaker for a much larger herd than that. My baby is a Kestrel 200SCi, purchased new in 1992, I think it was. The steering can be a little darty, but the ride and power transmission qualities are remarkable. My utility bike is an early 1990's Paramount Series 20 mountain bike. It was also bought new, and is currently in a mountain touring state of build, but it's also been a commuter and a naked mountain bike.

I watch over a Shogun Katana that was my first adult bike purchase, and which now sits unused by my brother in law (which is really a shame, if you're reading this, Mike). It has sharp reflexes and is a nice royal blue and white, but the ride is admittedly a bit harsh. I also manage a Trek 950 mountain bike that I bought lightly used years ago. It's a more modern mountain bike than my Paramount, but still unsuspended, and it served as my MTB while the Paramount was handing commuter duties maybe a dozen years ago. It now sits unused in my parents' den, ostensibly there for my dad to occasionally swing a leg over.

What else... My wife has two: A Taiwanese Bianchi that has been rebuilt a couple of times, first with a 105SC triple/8-spd groupset, and then around a 650B wheelset in an effort to make it more approachable for her. That seems to have worked, as she used it more this summer than in recent memory. And there's a great up-side there, in that it's now a very classy- and classic-looking ride. She also has a Gary Fisher MTB that's nice enough, but not very noteworthy beyond the frosty purple paint.

My kids have cool rides, too. I bought and then rebuilt a Trek Mountain Train trailer bike, which you can see paired up with the Schwinn, above. Off came the MTB bars and low end components, and on went a decent set of road components that few would be embarrassed by. Actually, looking at that picture, I am struck by how obsolete it is, only 5-6 months after it was shot. Both bikes have evolved quite a bit since. Finally, my older daughter (7) and I spent some time over the summer rebuilding a Fuji kids' racing bike for her. And I'm sure I can come up with something else to keep me busy this winter. Plenty of magic and plenty of stories in this stable.

All for now,


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