The Paramount page on Facebook often languishes for great lengths of time before a sudden spasm creates a day or two whirlwind of activity and then goes quietly dormant again. I truly don’t know why I bother with Facebook to be honest – it’s a terrible time waster, and I could certainly be doing something better with my time like sketching or tinkering or out riding. But the past couple of days have born witness to one of those flurries I mentioned a moment ago, exemplified by photos of some nice Paramount frames and complete bikes and interesting online conversation.
So I was already of a mind to ride one of the Paramount bikes hanging from the ceiling of my studio when this day blossomed. Just a drop dead gorgeous day, too good not to take advantage of, too good not to be out Just Ridin’ Around; one of those rare winter days between snow falls, when Momma Nature is merciless, teasing us with the promise of nicer days yet to come. It’s a Paramount kind of day.
I haven’t taken the 1972 P13-9 out for a decent spin in quite a while. It’s slightly smaller than my preferred frame size, but is, nevertheless, still a comfortable bike for me to ride. Built up from what some might consider a tragic compendium of parts that I like, but which really have no better reason to be hung together, I appreciate how well everything seems to gel. In one sense, I suppose this is my way of taking a jab at the preciousness of seeking out all those precious period-correct NOS components, the vanity of creating a precious near perfect recreation of “off-the-showroom-floor” perfectionism. Ingenuousness. Hmm.
There’s so much to be said for the classical beauty of a thing when it simply functions well, and that, perhaps, is the best way to describe my hodgepodge Frankenbuild.
The road out of town is all too familiar, and yet I’ve traversed it so little over the past month that I notice a few changes – a new house under construction, a shuttered store, a recliner dumped beside the pavement outside the city limits. Skunks, for some reason, become suicidal this time of year, and there are numerous corpses littering the road, the result of a calamitous exchange with an automobile tire. I glide past, casting a wary eye and checking to make sure each is perfectly still and unmoving. I don’t want to startle one of these critters in the throes of death: try explaining that you’ve been sprayed by a dying skunk.
As happens so often, I ride further and longer than I’d intended, but that’s ok. That’s the point of a JRA outing in the first place, and what I love most about cycling. Turning back toward town with reluctance, I enjoy ten or twelve miles of tail wind, and for the first time this day I shift into the higher gears, reveling in the speed as I slice through the air. I’ve purposely geared this bike low, so it’s seldom that I find myself in a position to ride full tilt. And while it’s certainly fun on occasion, speed is not really all that important to me. I enjoy being able to climb. And I don’t like feeling guilty about slowing down, stopping, and making a photo or a sketch.
Coming into the city, my route takes me through the town square where there is a lot of hustle bustle, much more so than normal for a Saturday afternoon. I pause at a corner to look around and notice that there are many groups of people, wine glasses in hand, wandering from one business to the next. A man walks past and I ask him what’s going on; he tells me that the businesses on the square have sponsored a mass wine tasting.
Well, I enjoy wine. And rather than heading home immediately I decide to purchase a ticket and spend a couple of hours wandering around in the crowds, investigating with the various wines.
It’s a small town and so it comes as no surprise that I run into several people I know. Some I haven’t seen in quite a while, so this presents an opportunity to catch up with old friends and acquaintances. The mood is festive and convivial, and as I wheel my bike from one location to the next, I chat with smiling strangers too. One fellow wants to know how old my Schwinn bike is, and is startled when I tell him it was built in 1972. I’m sure he’d be even more taken aback if I’d been riding my 1966 P12.
An elderly woman came out of the community theatre to specifically seek me out, “the man with the yellow bicycle.” She introduced herself and then proceeded to engage me in conversation about my Paramount, pleased to discover that I was fully aware of where it fit into the Schwinn lineup and the lexicography of American bike building. Amused and very curious about her seemingly extensive knowledge of arcane bikeology, I learned that she and her late husband had operated a couple of high-end bicycle shops in the 60’s and 70’s. Her eyes lit up at the memories of those days, and she shared anecdotes of riding and of bikes they’d built. Wonderfully, she still has some of those bicycles, including a Pogliaghi tandem. I was startled to discover that she lives only a few homes down from my own house, and asked if she would mind allowing me to photograph some of those bikes. With a great big smile she agreed to permit me to shoot them and to record some of her stories. My smile was just as big, I think. What a treat to meet this charming person who – I’m certain – has little opportunity to talk with someone who knows and appreciates a subject that occupied an important part of her earlier life.
What a wonderful day this turned out to be! Riding for hours along country roads, basking in the sun, enjoying wine and camaraderie. Reluctantly, I stuffed the wine glass I’d purchased for the occasion into my jersey and coasted down, out of the square and toward the hill that would take me home. And I can assure you, dear reader, that after enjoying an afternoon of wines, climbing the 12% grade was a real bitch.