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Posts Tagged ‘Bicycle’

Today’s cycling news includes two sad facts:

First, my friend Erika got hit by a car while riding her bicycle to a lunchtime meeting. Please join me in wishing her a speedy recovery.

Second:  a whole lot of people’s favorite bicycling comic, Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery, officially ceased publication as of yesterday.  For the unfamiliar, the strip attracted a worldwide audience with its deep understanding of cycling culture, especially the range of different cycling communities, and how they so often disagree. The Cleveland-based creator, Rick Smith, announced a hiatus a few weeks ago, and then yesterday posted that the Kickstand was closed for good. Please join me in thanking Rick for years of insightful humor and engaging stories. Best wishes to him, as well.

For both of those reasons, I’m posting something happy. These are scenes from Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty Begin: Or, The Forty-Ounce Puddle of Glass,  a little children’s book I made, in which a boy and his sister go for a bike ride and come upon a broken bottle in the road.

As any cyclist or other human knows, a broken bottle in the roadway is not only an insult to the eyes, but also an assault on the the tires.

But the boy and girl don’t just leave it for someone else.  By cleaning up the mess, they discover that they have super powers that can help make the world a better place.

I billed this  as “two young patriots’ coming-of-rage story.” And sometimes it feels that way when you see a mess someone else made and left behind, tarnishing your neighborhood as if that didn’t matter.  But really, it’s not a story about rage.

Really, this is about making the world a better place, and realizing that individuals–even little ones–have this in their power.

Raise your hand if you’ve had this feeling: You’ve taken responsibility for something–someone else’s mess, or some kind of communal neglect–and by taking responsibility, you felt empowered.

Riding bicycles has that effect, too:  you take responsibility for your own transportation, and it helps you realize just how capable you are.   You go where you want, when you want, without buying gas or waiting for the bus. You do something most people think is just too hard. But  your secret is that it’s fun, and it makes you feel good.

No matter your station in life or your politics, when you ride a bicycle, you get out what you put in. You work harder, you go faster. Or you take your time, and you enjoy the scenery.  You pour your energy into them, and out comes joy and transportation.

At least, until someone whacks you with a car.

But I hope Erika and all of us will remember that incidents like these are extremely rare. For most of us commuters, months go by without any hostile interactions with people who drive cars.

The empowerment we feel riding bikes helps us get back on them, too. We remember, I think, that we ride our bikes because we personally get something out of it. It’s not so much about saving the world.  We do it for the feelings of balance and speed. The invigoration of exercise. The knowledge that we will not get parking tickets. The knowledge that we can get there all by ourselves.

And if by getting around on bicycles we pollute just a little less, so much the better.

That’s what Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty are about: knowing you have the power to go, to be, to do.  You put yourself at risk when you take responsibility for something, but the risk comes with rewards.

My kids invented Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty as super heroes. I stole the characters and wrote their stories. This bike ride scene is from the second book–a prequel–which gives their origin: how they got their superpowers and assumed their new identities.

The first of their stories, Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty Liberate the Tree and the Sun and the Moon and the Entire Landscape–is about how they cleaned up the scenery after one of those blue plastic grocery bags got caught in a tree (and stayed there, “tarnishing the sun, and darkening the moon, night after day, for weeks on end”).

These books are how I started printmaking. They’re both printed from hand carved linoleum blocks–separate blocks for each color–and bound by hand. You can find them –and learn the rest of the story–here. 

All of us have super powers.  It’s just a matter of using them. When was the last time you used yours?

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One "High End" Peugeot from the '70s.

I walked up the wooden set of steps to get into Blazing Saddles Cyclery on a Saturday morning.   James Rychak and co-owner Travis Peebles run their used bike shop out of an old laundry building on the West side of Cleveland. I was there because I’d seen a Craigslist ad for “two high-end Peugeot frame from the ’70s.”

“We take old bikes and put them back into use so that they’re not what they were originally, but something tailored to the way the buyer rides,”  Rychak says.

Old bikes are more popular than ever right now, and Blazing Saddles is building a business on that market.

The appeal of old bicycles is difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t have it.  They are durable. They’re recycled. In an industry driven by a steady stream of shiny,  new, must-have products, they have endured.

My love of bicycles was born while I was in high school, at  the peak of the ‘70s bicycle boom.  At that time the finest bicycles in the world were still made of steel—hand crafted, chrome molybdenum or chrome manganese tubes braised together with curvaceous lugs. Craftsmen built the best of these frames one by one, and master frame builders put their names on them. These days the fastest bikes are made of carbon fiber, and new, hand made steel frames occupy a niche market, fed by folks like Cleveland’s Dan Polito, and Joe Bringheli. But that’s another story.

Circa 1982

I’ve owned a couple of fine steel bikes, and pedaled them tens of thousands of miles. My first serious racing bike was a Peugeot with a Reynolds 531 steel Frame and sew-up tires.

I bought it from Heinze Linke’s shop, the Madison Cycle Center, on Madison Avenue in Lakewood. Heinze worked at NASA by day and opened his bike shop in the evening. He was a godfather of bicycle racing on Cleveland’s west side. His shop had posters of Eddy Merckx and Bernard Thevenet, the biggest names in cycling at the time. Its racks were filled with fine racing machines. Anyone who has put in more than a few hundred miles on a bike like that knows this is true: It’s one thing simply  to own  a beautiful, hand crafted object, but it’s quite another to ride it, feeling the way it transmits the road to your muscles, the way it responds when you jump.

That's me in the middle, sporting the burgundy jersey, because the Cleveland Wheelmen had signed on to the notion that "Cleveland's A Plum."

I joined a racing team, the Cleveland Wheelmen. There were races in Detroit, Windsor, Akron, Canton, Dayton, Buffalo, and more. One year I got some black alphabet decals and put CLEVELAND on the front of each of my fork blades. My training logs show I rode that bike more than 30,000 miles.  It would have been about 1985 when I sold it.

Fast forward to 2011. I’ve been commuting to work for almost a decade, but lately I started riding fast again. I’m out of shape, but having a ball, and it makes me miss that bike.  So a few years ago I took up the habit of prowling Craigslist to find old bikes that awaken the joy that old Peugeot and a few other bikes had kindled in me. That’s what brought me to Blazing Saddles.

Rychak put the frames up on the counter.  One was too big. No sense looking at that. But  the other one, well, there was no way to deny that it happened to be the same make, model, year, size, and color as my old Peugeot.

Rychak told me the bike I was looking at came to Blazing Saddles from a guy who got it from his father.  There were chips in the paint, and specks of rust, but only cosmetic damage. I almost immediately noticed some flaking decals on the front of the fork blades, and I knew what they meant. But it didn’t sink in until I turned the frame toward me, so I could make sure everything was still straight and true. Those flaking decals on the front of each fork blade were the remains of of what I had put there almost 30 years earlier:  black helvetica letters spelling out  CLEVELAND.

Represent.

This was my bicycle. Not just the same make, model,year, size, and color but the very same bike I had pedaled all those miles. Those Cleveland decals were proof as good as a notary stamp.

Since I sold this bike, Ronald Reagan completed his presidency. So did George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. Now  Barack Obama is in the White House, and nearly thirty years after the last time I saw my bike–I had the chance to buy it back.  I paid the asking price, without even an attempt to bargain down.

Now my old Peugeot –the frame, at least–is hanging in my basement, waiting for me to scrape together cash and make good on my commitment to restore it.   It feels like I’m on a mission, to track down the rest of the components that once made it such a beautiful machine.   This could take years. I’m not in a hurry. Anyone know where I can get a set of Maillard 700, high flange hubs?

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