Too cheap to rent a campus parking space, too impatient to wait for a city bus, I bike to work year-round. Bike commuters, no matter their reasons for riding, get involved with their bicycles. That's why it was a big blow to walk out to our garage last weekend and find my bike ripped off.
The Trek wasn't anything fancy. A bottom-feeder model that I tricked out to suit my needs. We were together for more than 10 years, though. Buddies.
Like a real grownup, I drove our van to work for the next few days. As I waited at stoplights that I'd have blown off on my bike, I started to reflect on the bicycles in my life. I realized I could remember every single one.
First tricycle. There's a picture of me on this red and white beauty taken in our backyard. A real hog. The trike was beefy, too. It looks like it may have been equipped with air bags. I remember it because it gave me my very first feel for glide. This is where freedom is conceived. At least it was when I was allowed to take it out front. Mostly, I was confined to maneuvering up and down the lumpy hill of grass behind the house.
First two-wheeler, red, from Sears. This beast was more dangerous with training wheels than without. My father, whose mechanical abilities were challenged by changing the vacuum cleaner bag, considered it a success when he installed the training-wheel kit, with 'plenty of spare parts' left over.
I was relieved when he took the noisy brackets off to push me toward my first two-wheel experience. But the crappy installation had taken a toll. The left training wheel had been the only stable one, and I'd grown used to leaning hard to the left to stay in motion. The miracle is that both the bike and I survived my crashes as I learned to ride it.
Schwinn Sting-Ray, gold, slick back tire. The sun glints off the raised handlebars of this treasure in a photo taken out in the driveway on my ninth birthday. This began my association of special occasions and new bikes. It was my first bike lock, too ' a long-stemmed Master that I nattily fastened to the short sissy bar behind the banana seat. The slick tire, an unexpected bonus, allowed a longer brake skid, especially on wet pavement.
It would be another two years before Peter Fonda took to the Easy Rider highway with his own raised handlebars, but I was ready to cop the vibe once those posters came out. In the photo, note the Gilligan shirt. For the record, I still wear Jack Purcells.
Schwinn Varsity 10-speed, brown. Cool people rode Schwinns, exotic people rode Raleighs. This too was a birthday gift. I didn't know what to do with all the gears, so I rode it in fourth the entire first summer. But I was a big boy now. If a Sting-Ray was a status symbol among the boys, a 10-speed sparked status among the girls. This was my getaway vehicle when I climbed down the tree from my second-story bedroom window and met up with those girls in the middle of the night.
Peugeot 10-speed, white. My high school graduation present came with me from Louisville to UW-Madison for my freshman year. Within days, I was speeding downhill, late for class, leaning into the Observatory Drive hairpin at Helen C. White. The Peugeot frame buckled in half. Folded up like one of those bikes that are supposed to fold up. There are still pieces of my skin and leg hair on the curve's stone wall.
Motobecane 10-speed, gray. Somehow the Peugeot's demise was covered by my parents' home insurance three states away. Don't ask me why. When the check came, I plunked the dough down on the counter at the Yellow Jersey on State Street. I was quietly amused that this was my first purchase from a communist. This bike provided me nothing more than an 'it'll do' utility, and I rode it hard on campus until it was stolen my senior year.
1965 Schwinn Typhoon, gold. This bike deserves its own column. These days, they go for upward of $500. Back then, there wasn't anything retro or cool about the Schwinn Typhoon. I bought this one from a UW swim teammate from Menasha for $20, and I didn't even bother to lock it. One day it was stolen at the Union. Then it reappeared in the same spot a couple weeks later, and I rode it home. It was stolen again right before I moved to Honolulu in 1980. A couple months later, I got a call in Hawaii from the Madison police.
'Do you own a Schwinn Typhoon?' asked the officer. The police had found it abandoned. It still had the 1965 Menasha plate, so they called the Menasha city clerk, who provided the name of the original owner and his parents' phone number. The police called the parents, who gave them the number of their son in Madison, who gave them my number in Hawaii. All for a $20 bike. The cops held the bike in a warehouse until I returned to Madison the next year. They charged me $5 for storage. This is what you call quality city services.
Gray tandem, unknown lineage. My then-girlfriend, now wife Peggy and I bought this at a yard sale in Vilas County for $15. We figured it was a bargain at $7.50 per seat. We roped it down across the hood of my rusty Volvo DL, where it sprawled like a slain deer all the way back to Madison. This was my primary mode of transportation, with or without a rider on the back, for a couple of years.
In an odd dÃjÃ vu experience, the frame collapsed at bar time in front of the Plaza. We were trying to beat the previous week's record of riding with eight people aboard. We were successful. Very briefly.
Raleigh DL-1, 3-speed, black. Very funky bike. Another Yellow Jersey purchase. I proudly paid for it in cash with money I made after a summer of canning salmon in Alaska. Metal pull brakes, oversized wheels, the DL-1 was once used by British postmasters in North Africa. Peggy hated this bike because replacement parts, when you could find them, cost as much as a week's trip to Woodman's. I finally sold it and bought something more practical.
Trek 7000, black. This is the bike that was stolen last week. Farewell, old friend.