Reflections on bikes of the past year

And so, a new year dawns this morning. As always, I’m awake and puttering around in the pre-light hours, today resolving to wrap up my as-yet-incomplete classroom prep for Spring Semester, which becomes reality in two days. I plan to also clean up and organize my studio and to get some of the “back burner” projects moved forward. Along with the paint and brushes and books in my studio hang several bikes. There’s the Follis, for instance, that I don’t really ride enough and which I should probably move out of the stable – but some part of me can’t (or won’t) consider the option. A Bottecchia frame and wheelset is looking good in freshly painted finery, but I have yet to locate the chainring set and bottom bracket I’d like to use, nor have I decided upon the handlebars either. A Schwinn Voyageur touring bike is on the wall, complete except for installation of touring racks. The frame really doesn’t fit me well, and I must have a comfortable fit if I plan to sit on it for many hours over many days at a time. There is the distinct probability it will be stripped of its original componentry in a frame and fork swap with a fellow bikeforum member. In its place will be a powder blue Shogun 1000, which I will outfit with the Voyageur’s shed parts.

All of the many bikes I acquired this past year have been brought back to life, most from the brink of a pretty dismal future. Some went to family members: A Giant TCR with Shimano 600 components was fixed up for my younger brother; for my son, a 1980 Motobecane Mirage was stripped of the incredibly heavy, rusted and locked-up-solid derailleurs and freewheel. He now has a lightweight classic steel lugged bike with hand crafted bullhorns wrapped in white, a 42t crank, and an 18t freewheel; it’s topped off with a vintage NOS white saddle. He is the envy of hipsterville!

Some bikes were interesting, but did not make the cut for my collection. The Azuki Sebring renovation turned out nice, but the frame was too large; I’m happy it is in the hands of an art student/bike store wrench in Seattle, who truly seems to appreciate the aesthetics of vintage road bikes. A similar story for the stunningly preserved 1975 Raleigh Sprite that came to me as part of the package when I acquired my Centurion Super LeMans: one of my son’s friends was pining in the worst way for a vintage ride, hanging around the workshop this summer, waiting for something to come up. It did, the Sprite cost me next to nothing; I cleaned it and tuned it up and sold it to him for what I paid: a bike that had languished in a garage or basement for a quarter century wound up where it should have been all along – on the road. A pair of vintage 1960’s Mercier bikes were interesting, but largely a duplication of my other French bikes; it was tough, but they eventually also found new homes with riders. A Puch still stands in the studio, sadly apart from my favorites in the certainty that it, too, will be adopted by someone somewhere.

The most unusual bike to come through my workshop this year  – and this, by far – was a first-year Kestrel 4000. Very dirty when it came to me, but very nice components and wheelset – and I was intrigued by the space age design and carbon fibre construction. Having never dealt closely with a carbon fibre frame before, the light weight astonished me at first. I couldn’t wait to get it out on the road, but was very disappointed once I had: the ride quality can best be described as “dead.” There is simply no joy in the ride, and while it may have been (probably was, in fact) very fast in acceleration, I could tell immediately that it was not for me: There would be no thrill in climbing a steep country road or flying down a flat river bottom highway – not like the feeling I enjoy on my steel framed Freschi or PX-10. The frame was spruced up, the components saved for a more worthy rider, and the Kestrel was soon in the hands of a more appreciative owner in the Bronx, gone but not forgotten.

Other bikes never made it into the collection at all. Some barn bikes were either too far gone, too small to fit me (my criteria for acquiring bikes, after all, has nothing to do with flipping them and everything in the world to do with riding them), or the delusional owner had somehow reached the conclusion that a rusted Schwinn Varsity just had to be worth hundreds of dollars! Sadly, these relics remained in the barnyard, slowly returning to the soil from whence they came.

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