Sunday, June 10, 2012

My Bikes

Pre-zombie Cyclist on his First Bicycle

Schwinn Continental  (ca. 1962 - 1964)

My first road bike.  This was a fancied up version of the widely popular Schwinn Varsity.  I started doing 25 to 50 mile day rides on this bike back in the early 1960's.  I can't find any pictures of this bike, but Tom Findley has assembled a nice collection of Schwinn catalogues where you can see what it looked like.  It had the proprietary Schwinn electroforged frame which was heavy and unresponsive.  Although I should be grateful to this bike for having gotten me started, I confess I don't miss it much.  I sold this bike to purchase my Peugeot PX10.

Peugeot PX10 (ca. 1964 - 1967)

Not a great picture of the PX10, but check out the helmet on proto-zombie!
To this day I love this bike!  It was equipped with sew up tires and an interesting mixture of mostly high end mostly French components - Normandy hubs, TA cranks, and a Simplex Prestige derailleur.  The Simplex derailleur gets mixed reviews, but I have always liked it and it is very light.  My PX10 also featured Reynolds 531 "double butted tubes, forks, and stays" and a Brooks Professional saddle.  It was much lighter than my friends' Italian bikes.  To my lifelong regret, I sold this bike to buy my Hetchins.

Hetchins (ca. 1967 - 1968)

Hetchins Mountain King Touring Bicycle
Between High School and College I spent the summer bicycling through Europe with the American Youth Hostels.  I knew I would need to carry more than we did on our week long trips during the rain-free summers of California, so I decided I needed a touring bike, which my parents paid for as a present with the understanding that I sell my PX10 to help cover the cost.  Through the Cupertino Bike Shop I found out about a custom builder in England where my trip started, a Mr. Hetchins.  Working with the shop owner, Spence Wolf, I requested a custom manufactured bicycle that would be appropriate for touring but that I could be use as a racing bike when I brought it home.  Hetchins (or Hetchin's) bikes are thought to be among the finest ever made and have acquired a cult-like status, but from the git-go, I hated mine and sold it at the first opportunity.  Mr. Hetchins was a very nice man and gave me exactly what I asked for, but this bike always felt slow to me.  Fortunately, the person to whom I sold it wanted it very much and loved it dearly, so perhaps all's well that ends well.  Going back over the very interesting specifications for this bicycle in order to write this blog I think this is precisely the bike I would want today!  So why didn't I love it?  All I can figure was that "back in the day" I wasn't ready for a touring bike.  You probably can't see it because the picture is too small, but this bike has an unusual rear derailleur and a front "granny gear".  The derailleur is a customized Campagnolo Record manufactured at Cupertino Bike Shop to allow it to handle the granny gear, an innovation years ahead of its time. Very unusual for a touring bike, my Hetchins had sew-up tires.  This distressed Mr. Hetchins greatly, and in retrospect, I think he was right.  I paid $220.50 for the bicycle and supplied my own saddle (the Brooks from my PX10.)  I sold this bike to buy a Bianchi Specialissima.

Bianchi Specialissima (1968 - 1970)

This is what we called loaded touring "back in the day"
The Bianchi Specialissima was the go-to racing bike for the Modesto Roadmen.  It was competitively priced, it felt fast, it had all Campagnolo Record components, Columbus double-butted tubing, and in general, all the right stuff.  Unfortunately, like many college bikes, it was stolen.

Fixie (1970)

While looking for a replacement for my stolen Bianchi, I went into Velo Sport Bike Shop and they had a fixed gear bike outfitted for the road for sale for a very reasonable price.  We had read about fixies and their popularity in Great Britain, and experimented with them a bit, but this was my first, dedicated fixie.  In 1970.  Take that, hipsters!  It lasted a week before being stolen.

Bianchi Specialissima (1970 - Present)

Bianchi Specialissima with clincher wheels and clipless pedals
The epidemic of bike thefts had depleted my finances, so when I saw a used Bianchi Specialissima in good condition at Velo Sport, I grabbed it.  This time, I kept it IN my apartment, so it didn't get stolen, but the dirt it left on the carpeting resulted in the loss of my security deposit.  The only downside to this bike was the Campagnolo Gran Sport derailleurs instead of the more usual Record, and fairly narrow gears.  In 1971, I was planning a bike trip from Boston to Montreal, and decided to rectify the gear situation by replacing the 14-22 rear cluster with a 14-26, the maximum my Gran Sport derailleurs could handle.  In the process, I purchased the wrong cluster, ruined the rear hub trying to put it on, and got yelled at by Sheldon Brown himself, who built me a new wheel.  In 2010, frustrated with the tubular tires, I (temporarily) replaced Campagnolo/tubular wheels with no-name/clincher wheels.  I also replace the Campagnolo pedals with inexpensive SPD compatibles.  Honestly, I am torn as to what to do.  On the one hand, I feel like my poor Bianchi is now disgraced and I want to restore her to her former glory.  On the other hand, she rides really well, and I am tempted to replace the Campagnolo rear derailleur with a Sun Tour I have that would allow me to put a 14-32 tooth cluster on her, making the gear range marginally suitable for randonneuring.

Surly Crosscheck (2010 - Present)

Surly Crosscheck with 28 mm tires, Deore derailleur, and wider  cassette
As much as I still love my Bianchi Specialissima, it is somewhat impractical as an everyday bike because of the difficulty of refitting it with components compatible with my current riding.  My wife also needed a new bike to replace her 1970's, low end Gitane, and I felt it would be appropriate to have matching bikes.  Due mostly to availability, we purchased Surly Crosschecks that had been upgraded by the shop where we bought them to indexed shifting.  These were not perfect bikes, the gear range didn't go as low as we wanted and we might like to make a few adjustments to the fit, but they have proven to be good, reliable bikes.  I extended the gear range on mine in preparation for my 200K brevet by replacing the 11-25 cluster with an 11-32 (which required replacing the Tiagra derailleur with a Deore).  We plan to do that to my wife's as well at its next servicing.  This bike looks like it should feel slow, but honestly, it feels almost as fast as my Specialissima, and objectively seems to be every bit as fast.  Am I under appreciating this bike?

Bianchi Volpe (2011 - Present)

Family responsibilities required that I spend about half my time in California for the Fall and Winter of last year.  My loving family bought me a used Bianchi Volpe so that I could ride while I was there.  Like the Surlys, it is a steel framed bike, but with wider gears; a triple chain ring in front as well as wider gears in the back.  It's a great bike, in many ways my favorite of my three bikes, but it suffers from toe overlap, a controversial issue that some people say is a not an issue at all, but it is something I find annoying.  Is this a candidate for a 650b conversion?  I left this bike in California so I don't get to ride it as often anymore. You may notice, as my wife definitely has, that my bike acquisitions are no longer balanced by sales, and so I am starting to collect bikes, a trend I hope to continue.

My Next Bike

We did not expect that our Surlys would be our dream bikes, but rather usable bikes to get us riding on a regular basis with minimal fuss and to allow us to experiment with the world of modern bikes.  Based on our experience with the Surlys, my rather incompatible list of wishes for my dream bike includes a "faster feel", equipment for Randonneuring (generator lights, good fenders), lower gears, and a better fit.  On our Surlys, the handlebars feel a bit low and forward for comfort.  I have briefly test ridden carbon fiber frames, and I am not inspired to switch, so we are likely looking at steel frames.  We would like S&S couplers so we could fly with our bikes.  I have read that it is important that one's bicycle be beautiful, and that one loves it in order to have a truly good riding experience.  Honestly, I have never seen a bicycle I didn't enjoy looking at, but if we are going to talk 16 years old, the evening after the prom, heart beating, head swimming love, I have to say my favorite bicycles today are some of the randonneuses one sees posted on the web.

1 comment:

  1. I really like the progression and explanation for choice of bikes. good insight for someone not of that generation. I always wonder things like why someone would pick a Hetchins, or PX-10 or Bianchi. and it excellent to see photos!