Monday, March 24, 2008

bike love: feels like flying

This bike, a mid-70's Centurion, was my primary bicycle for several years. It was light and fast, and it's what I first learned the art of bicycle mechanistry on. My boss and teacher, Quinn (z'l)*, bought it with me at a yard sale somewhere along the Alsea River, took it back to his tiny bike shop in Waldport, Oregon, and together we tore it apart. He showed me how to clean and re-lube each component. We stored the freshly-cleaned parts on a shelf, and then he handed me the frame and fork and told me to strip the paint. By hand. "I know the guys down at the True Value," he growled, "and I've told them to tell me if you buy any chemicals from them. No chemicals!"
He handed me a bag of steel wool and an enveloped of emery paper and told me to have it stripped within the week. That meant every morning before my shift at the coffeehouse, and every evening after my shift at Quinn's shop, where I was working under the table and learning how to fix bikes. I stripped off the paint and watched in wonder and fascination as the brazing began to show underneath, all silvery-brass lines and gleaming as I sanded with finer and finer grades to get rid of the streaks. I brought the frame back with broken fingernails and scabbed knuckles and nervously presented it to Quinn, who turned it around and over several times and finally nodded his approval.

We put the stripped frame upside-down on a broom handle and stuck the handle into the repair stand. Quinn taped the threads and head badge with masking tape, carefully cutting away the excess around the headbadge with an exacto knife. He brought out a case of spray paint, handed me goggles and a can of primer and told me to start painting. While I carefully applied the first coat of primer, Quinn began pulling out box after box from his truck -- he'd gone all over town and borrowed some cheap suntan lamps, six of them. When each coat of paint was done, we'd set up the tanning lamps around the frame and turn them on on the lowest setting. By the next morning, the paint would be baked on. We did a coat of primer and three fine coats of dark royal blue this way. After the final coat, I asked Quinn to wait before applying the final coat of clear. I pulled out a white paint pen, and Quinn watched in surprise and then admiration as I carefully applied pinstriping to the lugs around the head tube, seat clamp and bottom bracket. After the final coat of clear gloss went on, Quinn and I assembled the bike using most of the old parts I'd cleaned and re-lubed, plus a few new replacement parts and a new set of upright handlebars. The maiden voyage out to Bayshore Spit and back, an eight-mile loop with celebratory picnic lunch, was a revelation. After four years on an old, heavy mountain bike, riding the Centurion felt like flying. I never forgot that feeling.

I rode that bike daily, and brought it back to Portland in 1995 when I came home to help care for my mother. Even after getting a job at Citybikes, when I could have had my pick of any cooler, fancier used bike in the place, I stood faithfully by my Centurion. In May of 1997, I was doored by a very large pickup truck. I got a concussion that left me sort of stupid for several days. My hand was seriously injured and my Centurion was damaged. After the surgery and the casting, while still on medical leave, my sister and I brought the bike to Citybikes, where I watched two of my co-workers attempt to straighten the frame. Cracks began to appear in the head tube lugs, and we all knew the bike was totaled. I went outside, sat down on the curb, and to my surprise I put my head in my arms and began to cry softly. Finally, one of my co-workers came over, and tried to comfort me: "look, it was the lady's fault, right? So you can get another frame with the settlement check, maybe something way nicer than this old Centurion."

I sighed. He couldn't get it and I couldn't explain it to him. We put the bike in my sister's truck and she drove me home. I carefully removed the head badge as a keepsake, hung the dead frame on a wall in the basement and thought about what to do next. A year of physical therapy and a second surgery followed, and I rode my roommate's bike perhaps five out of the next eleven months. I did a lot of walking and bus-hopping over that fall and winter.

In time I did heal, and in July of 1998 a settlement check arrived. It was fairly large, taking into account the severity of my injuries and nearly five months of time-loss. After considering my options, I decided to buy myself a custom bike frame. For someone on my budget it was a big step. I'd never ordered anything custom-to-fit-me in my life. Wanting to get it right, I even sent them my old frame, with the note: "I like the way this bike felt. Please imagine what it would've looked like un-bent and try to replicate the feel of this frame if you can. I will ride it with upright handlebars and a comfortable saddle." Several conversations back and forth helped to finalize my vision and the framebuilder's suggestions into a cohesive whole. After a year of waiting and riding a dirt-cheap, ill-fitting replacement bike in the meantime, I took delivery on The Rivvy in August of 1999.

I rode it as an upright citybike for several years. I tried it with drops for a couple of years but found I didn't like it. When another frame came my way that felt much better with drops, I immediately put uprights back on The Rivvy and now pick daily between the two bikes. Both bikes are pressed into regular service as commuters, load-carriers, trailer-towers. When I feel loose and stretched out and want to push myself to go longer or faster, I ride the drop-bar bike. When I just want to feel like I'm flying, I ride the upright bike.

In the right frame of mind, riding an upright bicycle IS like flying. Imagine a cockpit that looks like a sort of wingspan:

... and maybe you get the idea. Spindly and gangly, sort of like the paper-and-glue planes of the early years. Flying seems either foolhardy or glorious, depending on the results. And riding a road bike with upright bars can feel like that. It's not exactly the feeling I had with the Centurion, but it's close enough to make me happy.

It's sunny out this morning, and I feel like flying. I'm gonna ride The Rivvy to work.

*(z'l: abbreviation for the Hebrew term zichronah livrachah, translated as "of blessed memory"; to honor the name of a loved one who has passed on. Michael Patrick Quinlan was a gently misanthropic, dope-smoking hippie and bike shop wizard who taught me much and died much too young, and to whose memory I lovingly dedicate this post.)


dave in Chicago said...

Great posting Fatty. Really. Just wonderful. Takes me back in time to all things good, except the part where you got "doored", then that takes me back to my VW rollover accident and years of physical therapy. Not good. However, that nasty accident forced me back onto my bike for therapeutic reasons, and that IS good. Life is funny sometimes isn't it.

Harry H said...

I really enjoyed your story. Makes me feel better after a tough day at work. It's too dark to ride now, but in a few hours I'll be out on my mixte doing some flying of my own.

bikelovejones said...

I rode. I flew. Thanks for the kind comments.
(Fatty? I'm not offended, just confused)

Happy flying to all! Wheeeee! --Beth

Kent Peterson said...

I think Dave in chicago thought Beth's post was written by Elden "the Fat Cyclist AKA Fatty" Nelson. Eldon is one of group whose words fill up this particular portion of cyberspace, but this essay was written by Beth Hamon of Portland Oregon. BTW neither Eldon nor Beth are fat but Eldon gets kind of upset if you tell him he's not fat. Just to add to the confusion, we also have Scott "Large Fella on a Bike AKA the Dude" Cutshall who also posts here. Scott used to be a very large fella on a bike (500 lbs) but he's now less than half the man he used to be.

Kent "Short Fella On A Bike AKA the Mountain Turtle" Peterson

Jason Crane said...

Simply beautiful.

dave in Chicago said...

Oye. I AM confused! Sorry Beth. Here's how it happened...

I was reading Mike Curiak's wonderful part-2 posting about his experience riding the Iditarod trail and a blogger named FATTY posted a comment. I clicked on the blogger name and was wisked through cyberspace here to Veloquent. Immediately I knew that I was not on FATCYCLIST's website, but what I did not know is that this site has multiple people posting to it.

So now that I'm officially enlightened, I can amend my posting to say "great posting BETH!" Loved the story you told and wish you many happy trails.

Dave, less confused, in chicago

bikelovejones said...

Dave -- no worries!
Thanks and happy flying --Beth

alice b. toeclips said...

yep that part about going fast in the drops vs
actually feeling like yr flying on the upright bars...YEAHHHHHH

QMAN said...

James P. Quinlan said...
Dear Beth-I'm the father of your 'dope smoking hippie' bike mechanic...a finer son I couldn't wish for. Michael Patrick Quinlan was a gift - a gift to all who knew him.He gave of himself unselfishly whatever the cause. Aside from counseling hundreds of young people looking for purpose in their lives he was a one-man wrecking crew for anyone setting up a meth lab in and around Waldport,OR-an inspiration to many Vietnam vets to whom he gave purpose to live and a desire to contribute to society-he and a few other vets maintained a grotto in front of the Waldport City Hall planting flags accounting for each and every American that was KIA in Iraq-he graduated from OSU with honors..turning down the 'secret hand-shake'leading to the PhD -as an USAF cop in Germany he was selected as the honor guard at Normandy-In highschool he read Vonnegut and was twice regional champ in wrestling @ 167#-as a youngster he appeared in the Peabody Award winning film "Road to Gettysburg"as a 10 year old Confederate drummer boy.

So Beth Mike was more..much more than a 'dope smoking hippie'..he was my son and he gave more than he ever took away. Including his time with you and your bike.

Jim Quinlan

PS Drop me a line if you wish..

April 11, 2008 7:24 PM