My first mechanical love was a 1967 Schwinn Stingray, with gold metalflake paint and a tiger-pattern banana seat, which appeared on Christmas day. It was particularly good at speeding, flying off ramps and skidding to a stop, though I myself was not. The sissy bar at the back was what bullies hung onto when they wanted to mess with me, which was often.
Next came a candyapple red Robin Hood “English racer” with 26-inch wheels and a 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub. Fast, fast, fast. Everything a 9-year-old could want in a “real” bike. I got it just in time for the rest of my friends to graduate to 10-speed racers, Shimano derailleurs and rattrap pedals and make me feel like a little loser.
Three years of geekhood later, my Aunt Joyce gifted me with a C. Itoh 10-speed, with Shimano parts, a weirdly cool ice-urine metalflake paint job and super-grabby Weimann brakes, which I thought would make me look tough when I slammed to a stop, but instead just pitched me straight over the bars and onto the pavement at least twice before I got the message.
I hung onto the Itoh through college, through my first newspaper jobs, and it evolved, eventually gaining a matte-black paint job and a disgusting patina of rust and grease. I left it with my Volvo mechanic when I deserted Florida (where a long-term romance and my career basically self-immolated).
In Philadelphia, I picked up a refurbished ’62 Schwinn cruiser with chrome fenders and whitewalls. I have it to this day – 50 pounds of by-god American tube steel and machined parts. I commuted in hardnosed city traffic, through thick snow, pissing rain and (I’m not exaggerating) sleet for five rough years.
When I moved to California, I rewarded the Schwinn by stripping and rebuilding it completely. Candy-apple red, of course.
Then I took it to Burning Man – once – and forever doomed it to be a creaky, dusty, rust-prone playa rat-bike fit for foolish high-speed runs through dust devils, and carting around my kids when they were small enough to sit on the cargo rack.
I then spent about six years kicking the shit out of a Specialized RockHopper (good first mountain bike, which carried me through the first of two California AIDS Rides and a trip down Moab’s Slickrock Trail. The rigid steel frame kicked me back, but at least it taught me how to avoid plunging off cliffside singletrack (lie flat atop the machine and clutch the earth until it stops ripping off your fingernails and face).
In the late ’90s I got myself a terrific Cannondale F1000 (right), which I took over some gnarly red table rock at Sedona, across desert sand at Joshua Tree National Park and through the second AIDS Ride.
Then someone stole it.
Hell holds a certain particularly toasty corner for bike thieves, I told myself as I ground through the requisite red tape with my insurance company. But then more than a decade ago, I picked my current ride – a hardtail Cannondale F700sx with Hayes discs, a particularly bizarre Lefty front end and a very trick blue metalflake-to-black paint job, and it’s on the verge of wearing out, too.
Why the obsession?
Bikes don’t pollute, cost big money or let you down. You can always fix them with a few minutes of cursing, sweat and a skinned knuckle or two.
And they will take you anywhere.