I guess you could call me a bike-geek.
I still have three. Two are mine, plus I have one my deceased wife used long ago.
All are “10-speeds,” although my wife’s and my earlier bike are heavily modified, three sprockets up front, six in back, 18 possible speeds.
My most recent bicycle has 12 speeds; two sprockets up front, and six in back.
I’m not a bike-racer. It’s the simple enjoyment of the freedom of riding.
|The J.C. Higgins.|
My first bicycle was a 20-inch J.C. Higgins purchased brand-new
from Sears where my father worked a second job. Probably the only thing brand-new my father ever purchased for me.
He taught me to ride it. He’d run along behind and hold the seat.
I promptly rode it head-on into a maroon ’47 Ford sedan. They never saw me, and my mother noisily insisted I never saw them.
She collared the mayor of our town, who lived nearby, and they started cutting the grass on the vacant lot across from our house.
I survived, of course, but I dented the front-fender of that Ford with my head.
I was taken to the hospital by the only doctor my mother could raise, a Catholic for crying out loud. My mother was evangelical Christian, as was my father. —Both dead set against “Cat-lickers.”
But I did see the oncoming Ford. What I was trying to do was avoid a skid on sandy pavement. —But my mother was always right.
They X-rayed me at the hospital, and released me right away. No broken bones, and I didn’t even need stitches.
My J.C. Higgins was a mess.
Both the front wheel and front fork were destroyed.
But my father got it repaired like new — AMAZING!
I was then restricted to riding sidewalks, mainly around the block.
I did this counter-clockwise, because that way included a long downhill. I’d ride my bike as fast as I could — dreams of the Indy 500.
I mounted a rocket on the handlebars, and called my bike “The Red-Rocket,” because it was red.
But I quickly outgrew the J.C. Higgins, even though I started with blocks on the pedals.
My father decided to recondition his old balloon-tired Columbia 26-incher. He had a shop do it in nearby Camden (NJ), and had it painted red.
It was pretty to look at, but rode awful. The bearings were rusty, like pedals and wheels.
It was so hard to ride my father decided I needed a better bike.
So we went back to that same shop, and purchased a recently reconditioned 26-incher. It was navy-blue, and also pretty.
But it liked to derail its chain. I’d ride a while, and suddenly ZOOP!
The chain had derailed off the front sprocket.
I probably rode this bike at least three years, and the derailment problem was the final year.
I remember the chain derailed as I quickly rode away in fear from a girl I lusted-after chasing me on her bike.
My father decided to try again. We went back to that same bicycle-shop, and purchased a bike that hadn’t been reconditioned yet.
It was an insanely heavy RollFast spray-painted flat black. It had front-suspension, a heavy rear rack that would support a rhinoceros, and a tank with a non-working horn. A non-working headlight adorned its front-fender.
Kids in our town had bikes like this, heavy with lights, mud-flaps, and gizmos. One had a radio in its tank.
But they weren’t crudely painted flat-black with spray cans.
And front-suspensions were usually chrome. Mine was spray-painted aluminum.
That RollFast was junk
when we got it, and both tires went flat about three miles from home.
I went to a gas-station and blew both tires. Their air-supply was direct
to their 100 pound-per-square-inch air-compressor.
It not only blew both tubes, it shredded both tires, ancient whitewalls.
I had to walk my bike three miles back home, tires flapping.
I had to save for months from my allowance — my father refused to spill for new tires. “Let this be a lesson to ya!” he said.
Our family then moved to northern Delaware, and that was the bike I took.
|The RollFast. (On my way to the Pennsy main.) (Photo probably by my sister.)|
I stripped it to lighten it, and reversed the handlebars. I also got a speedometer for it, so I could see how fast I was going down Beaver Valley Road hill. 50 mph!
This was the bike I rode all through high-school, and used to ride down to the Pennsylvania Railroad’s New York City/Washington DC electrified line. —Where I saw and photographed GG-1
passenger express-trains. As I’ve said many times, the GG-1 is the greatest
railroad locomotive ever built. I’m a railfan, and have been since age-2.
My front-axle broke, and my father had a friend where he worked fashion another by threading a rod. We couldn’t purchase a front-axle long enough. The front-suspension used a longer front axle.
I took that bike to college, but not my first year. Prior to my sophomore year I repainted the bike yellow with red hazing.
I also constructed a heavy plywood box I put on back in place of the rack.
I rode it some, then loaned it to a guy in the class ahead of me. He tried to destroy my bike, I guess getting even with me for rebelling against his class dominance. I saw him riding it, and he was doing wheelstands, slamming its front-end into the pavement.
He did successfully destroy it; broke the frame or something.
I had to take it apart and bury it in woods next to campus.
I decided to try to assemble another bike before my junior year. At that time, and earlier, there were two
types of bikes: American heavyweight, and “English.”
An English bike was much lighter
and had a three-speed Sturmey-Archer
There were only two sprockets, front and rear, but the rear hub was three speeds activated by a pull-chain and cable to a tiny handlebar-mounted thumb-lever.
| “Free-wheeling Hughes” on the English.|
I decided to buy and recondition an “English.” I found one, and repainted it the same as my RollFast: yellow with red hazing.
I got it assembled and took it to college, where it became my freedom-machine. When I tired of studying, I’d blast south of town as fast as I could, to ride the circuit. About 15 miles over rural back roads.
They were flat and fast. I’d cross the Genesee River (“jen-uh-SEE”)
and go north along the east bank of the river. I’d blast north to Fillmore, then turn south down Route 19 back to campus.
I took that bicycle everywhere,
to class and daily chapel. I’d chain-lock it to wrought-iron stair-railing, or anything else stationary and substantial.
I parked it in the shower-room of my boarding-house, although once I found it outside hanging on a gutter.
People wanted to steal my bike, which was why I chain-locked it.
But one afternoon I rode a 10-speed Schwinn. I decided a 10-speed was in my future. Lightness combined with gearing for hills.
After I got married, and moved into an apartment in Rochester (NY), I went to nearby George Rennie Bike Shop, and purchased a new 10-speed Frejus “Tour de France,” $135 (a fortune back then). It was light and had sew-up tires glued to tubular wheel-rims.
|The Frejus four floors up in our first apartment. (Photo by BobbaLew.)|
Those sew-up tires were poorly suited for commuting on Rochester’s streets. Glass chips and sharp stones were always blowing the tires, and sew-ups were very hard to repair.
So began my effort to make my Frejus more capable of commuting. I had clincher-rims installed, which would allow much more substantial tires, less likely to puncture and easier to repair.
With clincher-rims the tire in cross-section is shaped like a horseshoe, and expanded clasps the wheel-rim. With sew-ups the tire fully encases the tube and is sewn together. That tire is then glued
to the wheel-rim, which is also fully enclosed (tubular). If you blew a tire you had to unglue it from the rim, then take apart the tire by undoing the sewing to get at the inner-tube.
About all you could do was replace the entire tire, and then you had to reglue it to the rim — very messy!
Rennie gave lessons in bike-repair and wheel-lacing; that is, lacing the spokes of a wheel to mount wheel-rims to a wheel-hub.
I did same, and constructed my own wheels with a six-sprocket hub and heavy-duty clincher rims.
I then took on the front sprocket, and converted it to three from two.
But in so doing I was getting away from the Campagnolo parts used by Frejus (“Kamp-en-YELL-oh”). “Campy” parts, made in Italy, were supposed to be the best.
I was also making my bike heavier, although it was still pretty fast on the flat.
Then one day someone opened the right door of their car as I passed on the right.
I crashed into the door, and continued over the bike handlebars. The car was a hardtop, and the window was down.
The crash bent the front-fork beyond repair, but also bent the frame. I installed a new front-fork, but the bike rode slightly cockeyed.
Not bad, but cockeyed.
A Tour-de-France had a lot of rake in its front-end, so liked to go straight. Even though the frame was slightly bent, the bike was still pretty stable.
I rode that Frejus a lot.
I commuted to work with while I worked at the bank. (This didn’t go over too well; no self-respecting Kiwanian would ride bicycle to work.)
After the bank, I rode it across Rochester to buy supplies for my photo darkroom.
We bought a bicycle for my wife at Rennie, a Raleigh 10-speed. But it was heavy; more a town-bike than a road-bike.
We looked for another, and bought a used Peugeot PX-10 (“poo-zhoh;” as in “oh”) more like my Frejus.
I modified it quite a bit, also making it 18-speed, and installed a new front-fork that supposedly gave it more rake. But I had it wrong:
rake is determined by the angle of the front fork-tube, which on my Frejus was quite raked, but the PX-10’s fork-tube was nearly vertical. Rake was not determined by the trail of the front-fork.
It was whippy when we got it, but my different fork made it whippier.
Whippy or not, my wife preferred it.
We rode quite a bit, even did about 90 miles in one day. It included a long steep hill we had to walk.
We began riding with the Rochester Bicycling Club, weekend rides of about 30-40 miles.
It became apparent that not only was I not in prime
shape, my Frejus was heavy.
It weighed 26 pounds, most of which was my modifications.
A better bike might weigh 10-15 pounds less, which affects your climbing hills.
By now my Frejus was 20 years old, so I began looking to replace it.
I considered aluminum-frame bikes. Rennie had died and his shop was out-of-business, so I tried a Cannondale from a nearby bike-shop. But it was so stiff
that signified “heavy” to me, but it wasn’t.
I also found an aluminum-frame “Specialized” racer from a bankrupt bike-shop that I could have had for peanuts. The shop’s owner was dismayed I was offered the bike for less than cost, but his attorney told him to shaddup.
I should have bought it, or the Cannondale, but Cannondale at that time was only available as a complete bike, as was that Specialized.
I wanted just a frame, to which I would add Campy or Shimano parts. Shimano is Japanese, and now to me they seem better than Campy.
I shopped around, and decided to get a DeRosa frame. They cost a fortune, but are steel. For the way I ride, I probably would have been better off with a Cannondale aluminum frame. They’re not as compliant as a steel frame, but I’m not riding 100 miles.
I’ve ridden the DeRosa and it’s too springy.
The bottom-bracket, which holds the pedal-crank, flexes on downstroke. The front sprockets don’t remain vertical when I pedal hard.
A DeRosa frame may cost a fortune, but may not be worth it. Cannondale’s aluminum frame might hold the bottom-bracket right.
I had to dicker a lot with the DeRosa’s front derailleur to compensate for side-play. The sprockets would hit the derailleur on downstroke.
But the seat was perfect,
the handlebars too.
Plus it fit;
it was sized right for me — my Frejus was always a little long.
And tire-design had advanced. The bike has clincher tires on clincher rims, but all are extremely light.
I started running to get in shape, including foot-racing. So bicycling became back-burner.
Beyond that we got a dog — I now am on dog number-six — and I can’t take my dog along when I ride.
Years ago I rode with dog, flatout,
as fast as I could go, maybe 30 mph. The silly dog would run out ahead of me through yards; come-and-gone in a second.
The dog loved it, BOOMBITY-ZOOM,
but she got hit by a car and was nearly killed.
So now everything sits downstairs in my basement. The Frejus has become a bicycle-trainer on a rack, devoid of its front-wheel, my wife’s PX-10 is moribund with my wife gone. And my DeRosa hangs on a maintenance-rack, tires flat.• My beloved wife of over 44 years died of cancer April 17th, 2012. I miss her dearly.
• Bikes seemed to run in three sizes: 20-inch wheel-rims were for small children, 24-inch for bigger children, 26-inch were for adults.
• We were living in south Jersey when I began riding bicycle. Our family moved to northern Delaware when I was 13.
• My college was “Houghton College“ in western New York, from where I graduated with a BA in 1966. I’ve never regretted it, although I graduated a Ne’er-do-Well, without their blessing. Houghton is an evangelical liberal-arts college.
• The “Genesee River” is a fairly large river that runs south-to-north across Western New York, runs through Rochester, including over falls, and empties into Lake Ontario. Houghton College was in the Genesee valley, not far from the river.
• “Frejus” (“free-jis”) is a high-dollar Italian bike-maker.