Sunday, May 31, 2009


Yesterday's post on city biking brought back some memories. Back in the late 60s Richard Ballantine was a friend of a friend. I read his books knowing that his biking risks were greater than mind because he's deaf. It's comforting to know that he could survive, and thrive, as a traffic jamming cyclist in the hostile environments of Manhattan and London.

The identification of one of David Byrne's bikes as an Austro-Daimler brought to mind one of many old bikes I've acquired and learned to love.

Thus, this brief reminiscence:

I read about bike racing, bike commuting, recreational riding, and the like. Bikes are sport. They're transportation. They're for exercise, cruising, showing off, social shoulder-rubbing, and family Q-time. Many are handsome; many are lovable; many are expressions of individuality. Using bikes can be social responsible and economically sound.

My first bike came as a Christmas present when I was 5. Before I got it a 7-year old friend of my sister had taught me to stay upright (and to use the coaster brake) by releasing me on a steep driveway that ended at the garage — sink or swim.

The next one was a larger version of the same: fat-tire Columbia single-speed jobs. Mine was blue and not quite so deluxe as this Schwinn.

These were followed by a 3-speed "English racer" which came down to me from a big cousin and which I used on my long and hilly paper route. It looked like this.

Years before I got this 3-speed, I first saw a European bike with derailleur shifting. That was in the mid 1950s at the home of my best friend Tommy. His father had brought a 10-speed home from Germany long before anyone in the US knew about this type of bike. It looked like this.

It was too large for me to ride and I didn't actually try out that style until a decade later when I was in graduate school and I borrowed one from a friend. Liking it, I picked up a 5-speed for a few bucks at the annual Madison police auction — a bike with a broken spoke on the front wheel which I never bothered to fix. It was red but otherwise looked something like this.

I got another used 5-speed for getting around in London when I lived there a year or so later.

Thereafter I latched onto the first of a series of 10-speed bikes for commuting and weekend riding when living, successively, in Connecticut, Bethesda, and Chevy Chase.

One of these was a new Peugeot PX-10E which I bought from a shop in Brooklyn, a first mail-order purchase. It looked like this.

A Mid 1970s Peugeot PX-10E

A bit later I bought a Raleigh Competition at a local shop and took it bike touring in the Cotswolds and northern England one memorable week in May. It looked like this.

The Raleigh Competition Series

At another local shop I later picked up an Austro-Daimler Puch frame and fork and built it up into a bike that looked like this.

I sold that bike a few years ago and am now riding another old one, about which I've already done a blog post: Vitus - the bike

Note: I usually try to credit my photo sources and am sorry that I failed to track most of these.

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