Bicycling Library:
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BIKING THROUGH AGES AND STAGES

Martin Kimeldorf
Bicycling Library:
Table of Contents
Works By:   Martin Kimeldorf
  COPYRIGHT NOTICE


This is an excerpt from a new work-in-progress entitled Bike-A-Demics. This book is written for educators and illustrates how to infuse bike culture into existing curriculums and programs. This essay appears at the end of the book.


Thirty five years after purchasing my first bike, I found myself once again buying (what I thought would be) my last bike. The task of designing and purchasing a custom bicycle for my 50th birthday required that I look back over my past, consider my present state of health, and plan for a future with lower blood pressure.

In the summer of 1997, I re-discovered biking after not owning a bike for over three decades. I learned that I could slim down a bit, build up stamina, and come to prefer biking in the rain to cruising the Internet. My new motto became: more riding, less writing. In a few short months, I was able to peel back layers of bodily neglect, as I began to reclaim the ancient body architecture--originally constructed in my youth.

In this epilogue, I'll review my rides across time. I hope that my bike-story will stimulate an interest in re-connecting with your own bike-story.

Cold Warrior Teen Times

When the Russian Sputnik blasted off it sent a shock wave across America which blasted us beyond our complacency. Suddenly, we set about to re-examine our entire society. We re-thought everything from teaching and training to fighting communists, from exercise and diet to political rights. We were going to catch up to the Russians by using the "new science" and "new math" in our reformed school systems.
In the 1960s I was a cold warrior teen exploring anything and everything that came across my path: wood carving, bikes, magic, science fiction, painting, writing. I was on a giant mission to nourish the intellect and satisfy my youthful curiosity. In this epoch, I discovered one of those rare, authentic bike shops run by a fellow in love with cycling. His small building sat in the southern shadows of San Francisco, in the staid, suburban town of Belmont, California. The owner was an expatriated European. His weathered face mapped the thousands of training and racing miles he had endured. He was promoting those new-fangled, foreign-made ten speeds. My brother and I had staked out the place for some time. We had saved our Saturday-chore money for two years, and we were finally ready for our assault upon the bike kingdom.
We ambled into the shop with a teen-swagger. After looking over the bikes (which we had studied only in catalogues) we gathered up our thoughts, and approached the shop owner, bent over a sleek racing machine. We quickly moved to the business at hand. Out spilled a dozen questions about bikes, repairs, and touring.

The proprietor looked up slowly, nonchalantly from the bike stand; examined us, and figured we might be worth the time. In a weary, here-we-go-again tone, he dryly pointed to the wall; and with a slight accent he chanted: "The case, the case." A small wooden box sat akimbo on the far wall; and when we wiped away the dusty cover, we found ourselves staring at some 50 medals from European bike racing events. We knew we were in the right place.

As it turned out, he was a kindly fellow. He waved us back and invited us to join him behind the work bench. He spoke in soft and affectionate tones about his bike. We began to ask questions about the bikes we wanted. He answered in succinct, staccato sentences. Everything he said was quite precise, not a word was wasted. It probably reflected a racing man's mind-set, where nothing is wasted, and the goal is to remain lean and efficient. He began telling us stories, and seasoning the yarns with bits of humor.

We were definitely in the right place, talking to the right person.

It was time to close the deal. I bought the lime green Peugeot bike, by brother bought the blue. Two years later, when I was 17 and my brother was 15, we mounted our bikes for the culminating event of our early cycling years. We went over the Santa Cruz Mountains and down Highway 1 some 150 miles to Big Sur. This same bike later served me through college and then it vanished as I left school and entered adulthood. As I inherited a bundle of new responsibilities in the world of work, I lost contact with cycling.

Re-Building My Bike Dream At 50:
Fast forward many years to circa 1997.

In late August, I bought my second "ten-speed" bike from a cyclist's hangout in Olympia: The Bike Stand. By this time ten-speeds had become 21-speeds and they had taken on new forms: mountain bikes, BMX, and the hybrids. This half- club, half-shop environment stirred up old memories where I purchased my first ten speed in Belmont, California.

My original, lime-green, Peugeot ten-speed had cost $80, which was a huge sum for an unemployed teenager. The lime beauty came equipped with Mafac center- pull brakes and the latest Simplex derailleur. In those days, components were simpler. I could repair a television or radio by taking vacuum tubes down to the drug store for testing and replacement. These components have now passed over into the bone-yard of yesterday's latest-and-greatest. Today, the only tubes I can still repair come from the rims of bikes. Today, the community of Belmont is dwarfed by it's high-tech, southern neighbors from Silicon Valley. Yet, a slim connection remains across time. Components change, by bicycling remains as a simple, pleasurable activity.

In the late summer of 1997, I ponied up the $269 needed to buy an entry-level Raleigh 21-speed bike. By tripling this investment, I was able to add fenders, lights, toe clips, rack, bags, pump, odometer (computer); plus an exercise trainer for the wet wintry months. The Raleigh came with cantilever brakes and an indexed (no-brainer) derailleur, bearing the brand name: Shimano. Looking back, I can now see that I was buying a bike...and a memory.

After acquiring my new Raleigh, I was shortly introduced to a band of cycling devotees, I initially nick-named the "bike crazies." This coven of riding- technocrats gathered once a week in the upstairs loft of the bike shop. The "seminar" leader was looked upon as a local hero. They'd seen his pictures in racing magazines, they knew he consulted for the big bike manufacturers at home and in Taiwan. Bill Stevenson had mastered the art of wheel building and frame design. In many ways, he reminded me of the European craftsman tucked away in his Belmont bike shop. As it turned out, Bill had spent part of his early apprenticeship in the Bay Area, where I grew up. All meaningful experiences are connected.

Bill also gives succinct directions, but his manner is quite laid-back. He begins each bike seminar with a general topic and task, but the agenda is driven by the questions we ask him. Think of it as a Socratic Bike Seminar…Did I mention that he does this for no pay? I'm not sure why. Perhaps he feels a messianic calling to spread the word. He and others in the bike shop will do anything to encourage people to learn and adopt the biking lifestyle and culture. They are busy re-cycling the world of cyclery.

People with many years experience attend this seminar, as well as novices like myself. Bill makes bike care look easy. At my first class I watched a 90 minute demonstration about cleaning a bike. It never dawned on me that cleaning could be so vital and the process so well thought out. Bill encourages. He inspires. He takes his time.

During this year of bicycle re-discovery, I worked on my bike at home, and occasionally on weekends in the bike shop. I progressed from bike washing to de-greasing the chain and rear sprocket cluster. I entered into the mysteries of derailleur adjustments. Slowly, a mechanical confidence emerged. But I ran into the wall when I first attempted brake adjustments. The brake pads needed to be aligned for height, toe in angle, parallelism, symmetry, and various clearances. This meant that my brakes had to be adjusted while watching for about 6000 simultaneous angles. The one regret I had is that Bill made it look too easy. I have since asked that he throw in a few curses and grimaces to make the demonstrations more life-like.

I ended up attending Bill's seminar for over 12 months, longer than any class I have ever taken. I fell in love with the metallic colors, chrome plating, perfectly lubricated chain. One night we re-packed the front hub with new bearings and grease. I watched in awe as he gave wheel a spin; it seemed to roll forever. I wanted to taste that small piece of eternity, and in the next Spring, I decided I would sell my Raleigh and buy one more bike: a custom Stevenson bike. I figured it would be my last bike-a grand companion in the final third of my life. I commemorated the half-century mark by riding a piece of art after my 50th birthday party!

The new bike, the new road ahead

Atop my bike, a bright new highway opens up at a time when many people think the road grows narrow and cold. As I conquer climbing over the 50 year old hill in my life, I ride through time and make new connections. Exploring this bike-life metaphor further, I would say that my new bike acts like a hub connecting the splintered episodes of my existence.

They say that a safe rider always looks back while keeping a firm gaze on what's ahead. And this is an excellent metaphor for life as well. I've found that looking back and reviewing the past fits nicely with looking ahead and relishing future possibilities. Reflection and speculation keeps the life- stream flowing in my veins. My bike takes me back in time to a youthful, spirited place just as it takes me forward to a more vigorous tomorrow.

Where might your bike take you?

In this short review, I'm trying to honor my ten speed rides of yesterday, today's twenty-one speed climb Tumwater Hill, and my future tour into the next century…my final destination. I've discovered that a bike is more than just a bi---cycle or a frame atop two wheels. It can become a space ship, exercise machine, commuter vehicle, touring device, racing machine, hands-on therapy, or a magic carpet ride. My bike is also a friend, offering a sympathetic ear on long, solo rides. Clearly, a bike is much more than transportation or sport.

What about your bike?

UP

About the author  

 
  Martin Kimeldorf,  
author
kimeldorf@amby.com
© 1998 - 2001
All Rights Reserved.
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