I’ve been doing good – riding my crappy old mountain bike almost every day. Over the week of July fourth I took a couple days off – plus I’m commuting home from work at least a couple times a week (when I don’t have to go somewhere after work and I can get someone to drive me in) so I rode over ten miles each day for ten days straight. I’m not losing as much weight as I want (yet) but my bike riding fitness and skills are improving faster than I thought they would at my age.
The mountain bike works well as a cargo bike or a fitness bike. It’s inefficient so it works well to build fitness. With the panniers mounted it can hold a surprising amount of groceries or work clothes and stuff. Like me, it’s not very cool and it creaks in unexpected places – but it gets the job done.
But something was bugging me – tickling the back of my brain. Out in the garage is my old road bike, my Raleigh Technium 460.
I bought the bike back when I was a young, thin, serious bicycle rider… as best as I can remember that was 1986 or so. It was a very popular and common entry-level bicycle – but was innovative in its day. The three main tubes are aluminum – one of the first affordable aluminum bikes. To keep the cost down the rear triangle was steel. Instead of welding, it is all held together with custom swaged fittings and is glued with industrial epoxy.
At the time a lot of people were afraid of a bike held together with glue. Now, of course the best frames are carbon fiber… sheets of woven fabric impregnated with adhesives… so I guess the idea was proved out.
I loved that bike. I would ride it around White Rock Lake after work more days than not. Never a racer – I rode organized rides – including the infamous Wichita Falls Hotter than Hell a few times. On weekend I’d take long rides out from East Dallas north into country roads piercing the cotton fields around Frisco and Murphy (these are now endless tracts of suburban sprawl) until I’d fight my way home bonked, tired, thirsty, and with weird sunburns.
All that ended when my kids were born. I bought the mountain bike hoping to get in short rides here and there but the time it took to stay in riding shape was all soaked up by work and soccer practice. The road bike fell into disrepair and disuse. I thought about throwing it away but there was always some dusty, cobwebby corner of the garage where I could stuff the thing or some disused rafter where I could hang it.
I haven’t rode the Raleigh Technium for at least a dozen years.
But it was bugging me… so I took a look at it. It was dusty and a little rusty, but other than the tires, it seemed to still be in one piece. So I found some tubes and bought some tires (it has 27 inch tires instead of the now-standard 700c, so it was tough to find some to fit) and sat down with some solvent, soap, oil, and wrenches and had at it.
About five hours later I had black grease stains tattooed deep into my hands… but I also had a bicycle.
It sat there for a while… I had a surprising amount of trepidation about climbing on board. It was like a time machine had suddenly popped out of thin air and sat beckoning, the siren song of the past forever gone. Finally, as the sun was beginning to set I walked out to the bike path that runs behind my house, leaned on the bike, and swung my leg over.
The seat was set too high and my foot caught. Both me and the bike tumbled down hard on the pavement. I now have a big black bruise on my thigh from the motionless crash. I guess I’m not as flexible as I was over a decade ago. I pulled out my hex wrenches and lowered the seat a bit, raised the handlebar about the same, and set off again.
This time it was amazing. I slid my feet into the old-school toe clips (I have some Shimano Clipless pedals I will put on the bike soon) and hunched down over the dropped bars, pumping the long light alloy crank arms – I felt the bike shoot forward in a way the clumsy mountain bike can’t and won’t. It felt like a leg-powered rocket. It was a little unsteady, the steering more twitchy than I was used to but it didn’t take me long to get the hang of it. I looped around the ponds at the end of my block, came back along the trail, went down to Saigon City on Jupiter and then turned and rode along Duck Creek to Plano.
What surprised me was how much more efficient the road bike was in cutting through the wind and going up slight inclines. The lighter weight of the bike, more ergonomic positioning, and less wind resistance made so much difference. I must have been grinning like an idiot as I looped over the creek and started north along the Owens trail under the high tension lines.
Quickly, though, the front tire began making a noise and I realized I had a flat. As I dismounted to look at the tire, the seat dropped down against the tube – I had not tightened the bolt enough. Now I remember the rigors of road bike maintenance – patching the narrow high-pressure tires, trying to keep everything adjusted and lubricated, trying to keep the myriad bolts tight. I had shot away without any tools or even my phone so I had no choice but to walk my bike the mile or so back to the house.
I couldn’t find any reason for the puncture… but I looked at the box the tube came out of (I had the tube in a crate in the garage) and it said Oshman’s on the price sticker. Oshman’s went out of business over a decade ago – so I guess that’s why the tube went.
So, after work, I stopped off at the bike shop and bought new tubes and a portable pump, and made the bike ready again. This time I was able to make a long ride in the evening without any major problems – stopping a couple times to adjust the seat or brakes with the tools I carried. I rode until I wore myself out.
The thing is fun. Still, though, the back wheel is seriously out of true, the bottom bracket has an ominous click, and the seat needs adjusting. I need to dig through the garage for my long-idle bike tools (if they are still there) and then try and buy what I can’t find. I’d like to bring it… if not up-to-date, at least back to where it was in the waning years of the last century. The problem is that bicycle technology has passed it by – I find myself looking at new road bikes. Christ! The things are so expensive – I paid around five hundred dollars for the Technium… I think, back in the day. That was a lot of money but I was able to just go to the bike shop and write a check. I didn’t have the expenses then that I have now. I didn’t have two kids in private college. There is no way I can buy a five hundred dollar bike right now.
So, I’ll fix what I can and hope nothing else breaks. I’ll do what I can to muddle through. I’ll try to keep riding every day, keep expanding the times I commute by bike, get stronger, get thinner. I feel like I’m looking into a time machine, trying to roll the calendar backward. I have been here before, I’m here again – with the same hunk of steel, aluminum, and rubber. We’ll see what happens, won’t we.