A red Schwinn with a banana seat

11Feb10

A red Schwinn with a banana seat, maybe a Stingray. That was my first bike, the bike on which I had training wheels. I don’t remember it having high handlebars though. My brother’s bike was a blue Stingray, for sure. Great seat on that one. Schwinn called it a “bucket saddle.” I wonder what an adult version would ride like. My mom had a blue three-speed Suburban and my dad had a brown ten-speed Varsity. I clearly remember the Schwinn dealer, down 28th Street next to the Dunkin’ Doughnuts. I don’t remember if they originally sold only Schwinns, but they eventually began stocking Treks in the early 90s when Schwinn was well on its way to die.

I had outgrown my Schwinn by then, so I got a Trek. I was completely taken by the whole mountain biking thing—I obsessed over the 8000 model because it was aluminum and looked totally kick-ass. I got the 820. Pretty sure I never took it off-road. I brought it to college. I didn’t know anything about quick release skewers or how to lock up a bike, so my rear wheel was promptly stolen. I had it replaced. I brought it home at the end of the year. My enthusiasm had waned. I didn’t take to riding in college.

Then I didn’t have a bike for a pretty long time. It wasn’t until 2001, after I’d been living in New York for a while that I started thinking about bikes again. I did a lot of reading. Wasn’t nearly as much online as there is now (glad to see it growing) but one guy was out there, dutifully building an encyclopedic knowledge of bicycles. He was Sheldon Brown. He knew at least a little bit about everything you could possibly want to know about bikes and a great deal about most all of it. He would answer every email I sent him. His site was what convinced me to get a 3-speed Raleigh for riding around New York. It is still an indispensible resource.

So I went on a hunt for a Raleigh and discovered that New York shops keep just about zero in stock. If they ever show up used, they disappear that same afternoon. Clearly the next best thing was to drive to Philadelphia to get one. If you live there, visit Trophy Bikes. I think they’ve moved since I was down nearly ten years ago, but in their old shop they kept the Raleighs in the basement. It was actually kind of charming. The shop was open and well-lit, a Brooks display right past the counter. Good looking stuff in there. You wouldn’t have guessed they had bikes for sale down in that dank cellar, but there they were, maybe a half dozen of them.

I think it cost $250. It had its original Brooks and it was as stiff as bare plastic. It was an incredibly uncomfortable test ride because of that saddle, but I was sold on it anyway. I got it back to New York. I got a new Brooks. I had the wheels rebuilt to replace the steel rims with alloy (steel rims + rain = your brakes will never, ever work). I got a rack and a Cateye light and a Planet Bike blinky, too. It was great. I loved riding that thing all over the city.

I rode it over the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges (never got to the Williamsburg). Rode it down to Battery Park and the west side path all the way up to the GW. I used to love getting tamales in Washington Heights the year I did Team in Training. My friend Megan and I would eat them on the street before swim practice. Not the smartest training food but unquestionably the most delicious.

I rode the East River path. Rode it to Queens to the Hells Gate Bridge. I rode in the Five Boro Bike Tour twice. The first time was incredibly fun and I have great memories of it. It was so good, I felt compelled to recruit Sarah and our friends Jeff and Sarah the next year. It rained half the day that year. Then Sarah and Sarah were hit by a guy who mistook the biggest leisurely ride in the country for a race. And when all thirty thousand of us lined up in Staten Island to take the boat home, we found only one was running. Both ways. We stood in the sun for hours. I never did it again. (And I may have killed cycling for all three of them).

I rode to work. I road to Houston and Broadway. I rode to Times Square. I parked for a time on an indoor rack at the 1515 building. Not many indoor bike facilities back then. It was nice. I rode at night. A lot. Riding at night is probably my favorite thing to do on a bike. There is no traffic. Everything is quiet. You can relax a little. It’s like Amsterdam all the time. I miss New York for that.

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