Right before I got married thirteen years ago, I took a leisurely bike ride around a lake, telling my German father in law that I needed to feel “den Wind in meinem Gesicht” — the wind in my face — one last time, or something to that effect. A few years previously, I had sold my first nice bike — an early Cannondale racer — thinking that I had grown too old and out of shape ever to ride hard again. And a few years later, after another bike of mine got stolen, I didn’t replace it right away, taking the theft as a sign that this time, finally, I was through with bicycling. For many years, I rode under this cloud of belief that riding was only for the young and strong, and that youth and strength were leaving me. This endowed my riding with a sense of special occasion or fleeting privilege, ensuring that I’d be back in the saddle “just a little more” again and again.
This attitude began to change only after I discovered, after a period of many years of only short rides, that I could still ride 45 miles without difficulty, and in fact felt high for days on the endorphins I got from it. This was 1997, when I was 31, and I couldn’t get enough. I worked up to a century in the following year, and began multi-day unsupported touring as well. It was meeting older, sometimes downright elderly touring cyclists out in the middle of nowhere that finally convinced me that I could bike until I died. In particular I’m thinking of the 92-year-old stooped over fellow with shaky hands and wild bushy eyebrows I met at a campsite on the Oregon coast in 2000. He was alone, riding a four-day loop out of Eugene, camping with all his gear strapped to his old Raleigh. There are plenty of old people out there quietly touring thousands of miles under their own power, cursing their retired contemporaries on the accelerated mortality plan who pass them too close in their RVs.
Almost all of my riding these days is utilitarian, at least in part, with my son aboard. But every couple of weeks I can still ride without any object other than to feel the wind in my face, however briefly. These rides now fill me with a sweet sense not of lost or fading things, but of sweeter things to come.
I dusted off my best attempt at a beater bike the other afternoon. I say attempt because I can’t leave well enough alone in the bike department, so when I found a rusty old Raleigh Sprite in the donor pile at Pedal Revolution in San Francisco a few years ago, I proceeded to build 700c alloy wheels for it, and put on a new Lepper saddle. It’s perfect for gliding through the neighborhood, head in the clouds, just riding.
Proudly “all steel” as opposed to cast iron. Steel, of course, is now considered old-fashioned or just plain heavy. After enjoying a couple Cannondales and being convinced of the superiority of their material and fat-tubing design, I tried a quality steel bike in 1998 on the advice of an interested party (bike store guy). Thank you, Bradley: you saw what I really wanted in all the modifications I had made to my Cannondale.
I can’t date this bike, and it’s been heavily mongrelized. It had a 5-speed derailer when I found it, for one thing.