Three-speed derelict

We pull up to a roadside antique store and – as always – I scan the perimeter for old bikes. Spotting one leaning up against a tree I wander over for a gander, and my wife heads for the front door of the place. I am a bit obsessed with finding something cool and unusual and while the vast majority of bikes I come across at antique stores are rusting hulks, I did spot a Masi Gran Criterium hanging from the ceiling at one such place last month. At $3,000, it was more than a little out of my price range, but I felt vindicated that such things could still be found.

The bike I scope out on this particular morning is unusual. It appears to be fully chromed, though the chrome is flaking off, a victim of exposure. The drive is an unidentified three-speed and the saddle has long since lost everything except for the skeleton. There’s a badly faded head badge and as I tilt my head back and forth I can barely make out letters and what appears to be some sort of larger round symbol. After a few minutes of study, I decide the text says “Flying O.” Never heard of it. Looking it up on the internet later, I discover that brand was made by Otasco, a hardware chain out of Oklahoma. Since I’m in Northwest Arkansas, only a few miles from the border line, that kind of makes sense.

The bottom bracket seems to be frozen – not surprising if the bike has been leaning against the tree for a few years. Still, it’s not in terrible condition so I lift it up. It weighs a ton!

Oh well, even thought it’s only thirty bucks, it would be too small for me, and anyway, there’s really no room in my car. I leave the chrome bike leaning against the tree to continue its slow dissolution.



I like to wander.

I always have.

When we travel I find that my favorite parts of the journey are when I just wander around the streets just to see where they go.

As a teen growing up in southwest Missouri, most of the other guys – and some of the girls to – enjoyed riding horses. For most of them that was a means to an end: rodeo-type events like barrel racing and calf roping and even bronc riding. As a 14-year-old city kid removed to the country I was automatically an odd duck as the new guy in a tiny rural community located about ten miles from the place Footloose was based upon. In an effort to fit in I tried some of rodeo events – not realizing how terrifically dangerous it was to do so I even tried riding a bull. (Fortunately that was about a one second experience for me and I scrambled away a whole lot more scared than hurt.)

But I rode horses and I rode them a lot.

Not to race around barrels or to rope calves, but to wander around for hours on end. I loved to explore lonely dirt roads and old houses and abandoned barns. Even today I cherish the opportunity to stroll through ancient towns and ponder equally ancient buildings. Perhaps I should’ve been an archaeologist or something, as intriguing as I find the remnants of humankind, the roads and buildings and structures we’ve created and then abandoned. Sometimes when I’m driving I will simply seek out the roads that no one else is traveling, often those original segments of highway now bypassed by multiple-lanes of  freeway, modern day disconnections severing the links between  towns they formerly connected. Whether by foot or on bike, wandering, sketchbook at the ready, is the way I choose to experience my world.



The chorus of a million frogs, crickets, insects engulf me as I coast down the hill at 4.30 am. Behind me lightning flashes on the western horizon, its telltale reflection in my mirror followed by the rumble of thunder. A cool, persistent breeze: But it’s difficult to say, really, from what direction it hails. Fallen leaves – a premonition of Autumn, that beacon of days to come as arrived earlier than I would have imagined; they swirl at the edge of the road, spinning and dancing a wild dervish. Rain drops fall, eerily ghostlike, briefly tracing glowing white trails across the beam of my lamp, coating my arms with moisture. The road is still mostly dry but the canopy above me betrays Mother Nature and a staccato beat of falling rain slowly grows more insistent. A jogger comes into sight, raises a hand of greeting, then disappears, engulfed by night. Summer ends.

Just enjoying myself

“Twenty or thirty miles of rolling hills? Piece o’ cake.” How often do you hear that sort of statement attributed to a three-speed? And yet, here you have it: No land speed records were broken, but hitting the road for a leisurely couple of hours is a real joy on this bike. Cruddy weather? No worries. A bit of gravel. No sweat.

Off road…


I stopped in at my favorite LBS after an unhurried rural ride this morning. Actually, it’s not a terribly “local” bike shop, now that I think about it. But despite the fact that they’re located about twenty-some odd miles away, with – what? At least four closer shops? They still remain my favorite relatively local bike shop. My wife’s bike was “making noises.” No, I didn’t really hear them, but more to the point she did – and they were beginning to irritate the hell out of her. The noise I thought she was describing sounded to me as if the brake pad might be occasionally rubbing against the front or back rim, as if one of them were slightly out of true.

Hell, they looked true to me when I spun the wheels, and I couldn’t replicate the noise on the stand, so I figured I’d let the real bike wrenches find the source and fix it.

I like these guys a lot. I wheeled the bike into the shop, adorned in all of its step-through frame pink splendor, and was greeted with the usual shit: “Hey Mark…good looking bike – it’s about time you started riding something serious.” I may have tinkled the bell in response.

I was prepared to leave the bike and pick it up later, but things were slow and one of the guys promptly clamped her into the stand. I haven’t visited in months and yet I’m greeted by name and treated like I’m important. So yes, this remains my favorite shop.

The guys say they aren’t busy, but they are still tinkering around with customer’s bikes while my wife’s gets looked over. Idle chit chat. How’s it going? Getting in much riding?

I respond that I’m disappointed in myself for not getting in as many miles as I’d planned this year. Grinning, I say, “But I’ve put in quality miles.” It’s a joke (and a pretty lame one at that), but my friend grins back. I think about it – not a whole lot of fast mileage this year: not really any to speak of, as a matter of fact. Not a lot of long distances either.

But the riding has been enjoyable, fit into and around my life schedule as it were.

As I was wrapping up the morning ride today, several mountain bikers were standing around the trail head, listening to the MIZZOU game on the truck radio before mounting the path. One fellow, sporting a nearly waist length beard, was intrigued by the Raleigh International I was loading back into the van. He came over to check it out, the chrome lugs, I think, caught his eye, and I told him a little bit about my restoration hobby. I was asked if I had a business card, which made me chuckle. The idea has crossed my mind in the past, but a business card means I’m taking this stuff seriously.

No, I said. I just want to enjoy myself.

2013 Tweed Ride

Saturday morning was cool and breezy, and just about perfect for riding around a few historic neighborhoods, seated atop a zippy and lightweight three-speed road bike, garbed in a wool throwback cycling sweater. And this was also the day of our annual Tweed Ride. What more can I say? A bunch of vintage bicycle enthusiasts, hiply dressed in the costume of days gone by, mustaches and facial hair sculpted with wax…what’s not to love?