Break out of Frames
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Martin Kimeldorf
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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.

As I look back, I realize that I have probably cycled through my mid-life crisis's and life-transitions. In this epilogue, I'm sharing my bike-story, and in this way, hope to stimulate the telling of your own story.

Reviewing my ride across time, I see certain connections. Using the bike metaphor, I have been able to find a hub connecting the splintered and spoked episodes of my existence. It's true, these moments of integration are rare and unpredictable. It just so happens that the purchase of a new bike for my 50th birthday became a window to the special moment where I feel as if my life made sense. In this case it was atop the saddle of a bike.

Cold Warrior Teen Times

When the Sputnik era began, it ushered in the "new math" and Americans re- examined how they did things. We re-thought everything from fighting communists, to the Bill of Rights, to exercise and diet. In this naive era, you could still fix your television by taking tubes down to the local drug store for testing. In the small, backwater, almost-suburban town of Los Gatos, a man with a weathered face was promoting those new-fangled, foreign- made ten speeds. This ex-patriot European owned a bike shop which my brother and I had staked out for some time. We saved our chore money for two summers and then went in to proudly cross-examine him about bikes.

With a teen-swagger, we ambled into the shop. After looking over the bikes (which we knew by heart from catalogues) we built the confidence necessary to approach the man bent over a sleek racing machine. We quickly moved to the business at hand, asking him how long he had been selling bikes. He looked up nonchalantly from the bike stand and looked us over before deciding if we were worth the time. Then, in a weary, here-we-go-again tone, he dryly pointed to the wall; and with a slight accent he repeated: "The case, the case." On the wall, a wooden case sat akimbo, and when you wiped away the dust, you found yourself staring at some 50 medals from European bike racing events. We knew we were in the right place and we knew we would have to be careful what we asked next. He was a kind fellow and invited us back behind the work bench. He spoke in soft tones about his bike. We asked a few questions and he answered in succinct, even terse 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, everything is lean and light. He began telling us stories which were sprinkled with bits of humor.

I knew it was time to get my own bike. I bought the lime green Peugeot bike. Two years later, when I was 17 and my brother 15, we mounted our bikes for the culminating event of our youthful biking years. We went over the Santa Cruz Mountains and down Highway 1 some 150 miles to Big Sur. That bike served me through college and then it vanished slowly amidst the task of turning from a youth into a working adult.

Re-Connecting With My Own 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 company: mountain bikes, BMX, and the hybrids. This half-club, half- shop environment stirred up old memories of my first Peugeot bike.

My lime-green Peugeot ten-speed had cost $80, which was a huge sum for an unemployed fifteen year old. The lime-green beauty came equipped with Mafac center-pull brakes and the latest Simplex derailleur. These components have now passed over into the bone-yard of yesterday's latest-and-greatest. Today, the original shop in Los Gatos has given way so Silicon Valley and the only tubes we test now come off of bike rims. But there is a connection across time. You will come to see why I believe in reincarnation, at least to some extent.

In 1997, I ponied up the $269 needed to buy an entry-level Raleigh 21-speed bike. By tripling the investment, I was able to add the fenders, lights, toe clips, rack, bags, pump, odometer (computer); plus an exercise trainer for the wet wintry months. The Raleigh comes 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.

One thing hasn't changed...the adoration people have for a piece of well made equipment. I was shortly introduced to a band of people I initially nick- named the "bike fanatics". This covin of technocrats meets once a week in the upstairs loft at the store. The "seminar" leader is somewhat of a local hero, looked up to by many younger bike enthusiasts. They've seen his pictures in racing magazines, he consults for bike companies, builds wheels and designs original frames. He reminds me of the fellow back in Los Gatos. And, it turns out, he spent part of his early apprenticeship in the Bay Area vicinity.

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 everyone present. 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 the others in the bike shop will do anything to encourage people to learn the bike culture. They are busy re-cycling the words of cyclery.

People with many years experience attend this seminar as well as people like myself. (Novitiates in search of their youth.) Bill makes it look easy. He encourages. He inspires. He takes his time. The first meeting I attended lasted for 90 minutes and it was all about cleaning a bike. It never dawned on me that cleaning could be so vital and the process so well thought out.

Today bikes cost more. Today we know more--perhaps that is why we attempt to do so much more in our terribly short life spans. It's just like everything else in the info-society, you don't just buy a calculator, you purchase a computer with a modem. You don't just get a canoe, you buy a sailboat. No one just acquires a radio, it's a stereo with CD and surround sound. And, it's more than a purchase of an inanimate object. You are buying into a life- style that goes with the product. In small, continuous steps, I was slowly filling out the new name my wife gave me: bike-boy.

I re-claimed my repair confidence by doing simple tasks. I progressed from bike washing to de-greasing the chain and rear sprocket cluster. I entered into the mysteries of derailleur adjustment. But I ran into the wall when we started brake adjustments. The brake pads needed to be aligned for height, toe in angle, parallelism, symmetry, and various clearances. This meant that my brake adjustment had to consider 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.

Since Bill gave of his time, I decided to return the favor in the form of these notes and checklists. These bike scribbling are based on his seminar and my readings. Bill kindly offered to review the notes and then offered technical editorial advice. (This meant he made sure that I used the correct terms and directions. It also meant that he felt confident about giving me additional reading assignments.)

Hmmm, must be a labor of devotion.

I hope these notes honor my ten and twenty-one speed bikes. These notes are a tribute to the bike enthusiasts and especially my original role-model in Loa Altos. Finally, sharing note with you reflects the generous spirit of my current bike mentor: Bill Stevenson.

Get it right--before you ride...Ride on. Martin Kimeldorf

PS. Now that I've told you my story, consider telling your story to the people you work with. Then help them start the next bike chapter in their life.


About the author  

  Martin Kimeldorf,  
1997, 1998
All Rights Reserved.
Amby Duncan-Carr,
page designer
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