Lael, Paul, and Mary


Five years ago, I dusted a red bicycle found in an attic of a house I was renting in Tacoma, and gave it to Lael. Her needs were simple– something to take her to school, and a few other places. Previously, she walked everywhere, or ran. If there were a nice way to relate her to Forrest Gump, I would, but there isn’t, so I won’t. She walked everywhere, for hours at a time.

The bike, despite red paint, was a real gem, sarcastically. A kind and generous description: both the crankarm and pedal axle were bent, the cantilever brakes were spongey, and the tires held some air. It was too big for her, but she rode it daily, with a hot ceramic cup of coffee every morning. As a budding bicycle mechanic, I think I knew better, but it felt something of a success. Lael was thrilled, and I thought she was the perfect customer.

She has since ridden a mid-eighties Motobecane with a broken derailleur converted to singlespeed; a modern Raleigh Rush Hour, fixed, with flat bars; an early eighties Bianchi with arabesque-styled Shimano 600; and a Surly Long Haul Trucker in various forms. In addition, she has borrowed a half-dozen of my bikes including vintage touring frames, a Surly 1×1, a ’68 Schwinn Tandem, and my Bianchi San Jose. After all of her product testing, she likes: the look of vintage Shimano 600, the uncluttered and unencumbered feeling of riding a single-speed bike, and the utility of the LHT. She knows what she likes when she rides it, but always enjoys the bike she rides, despite its inadequacies– she is the perfect customer.

Since departing over three years ago on our drop bar touring bikes– hers, the Bianchi and mine, the 1995 Trek 520– we’ve remained on drop bars. They’ve always given us a place to put our hands, and to mount our brake levers and shifters, and we haven’t asked much else of them. This is becoming a boring story about handlebars. Rather, it’s a boring story about riding a bike and enjoying it, all over again.


Long days and cobbled roads fatigue the bike and rider, but sore neck and back are signs of poor fit or bike posture and make for an ornery dinner date. All I’ve got to offer are lentils for dinner, but I knew how to fix the bike problem.

The Broken Spoke in Santa Fe offered some prime used goods in the way of an On-One Mary bar, Paul Thumbies, and some Dia-Compe brake levers, all for less than the price of the Thumbies. Within the hour, Lael was perched, like a European cycle-tourist, admiring her surroundings. Her bike is now called Mary (and/or Paul), and it’s comical how much she enjoys riding it. She rides with greater comfort, control and a little less speed into the wind on a paved road. She doesn’t give a shit, and she’ll tell you (or me) that Freddie Hoffman rides upright, to the moon and back. The new position allows her to produce more power for more of the day, and heightens her confidence while descending. She’s maniacal on unpaved descents; my suggestions of prudence illicit more speed and shit-eating grins and in truth, neither of us could be happier with her Marys.

A sprung Brooks saddle and Ergon grips complete this ultimately comfortable tourer.






10 thoughts on “Lael, Paul, and Mary

  1. It’s amazing what a “quick change” can do for the spirit. I recently put a Sakae MTS-120 stem on my ATB. This raised my bars up and out and made that “unusable” section of the drop bars, not only usable, but down right comfy. I couldn’t be happier! So i know the feeling of making the small changes, that yield the best results. Cheers guys! Wish I could ride along.

    • Sean, did the Sakae stem come from 2nd Cycle? If it did, there is a possibility that it came off my High Sierra. The clamp diameter is 22.2mm? or was it 25.4? Did you use a bar to match, or did you have to do some metalwork (filing) to fit the stem? Handlebars higher and closer solve a lot of problems. Nice addition.

      • HA! It did come from 2nd, and is 22.2 i believe. I matched it up with an old set of touring bars that surprisingly fit, though i was concerned about the bars being slightly larger. Ultimately, the mismatched parts complement the frankensteinish build without being to blasphemes. I would post a picture of the the stem, but thats not an option in this comment box.

      • That is definitely the stem that came on my bike. Drop bars with 22.2-ish clamp? Weird. I love this kind of old equipment because there is no hesitation taking a file, drill, Dremel, sandpaper or other “destructive” tools to their soft aluminum bodies. They can easily become anything you envision.

        Sweet ride. I assume the Aspen came from 2nd Cycle as well; I remember lots of decent ATB’s hanging around, that one in particular.

        Suntour bar-ends? What tires? Those old Shimano brakes are the best– great power, great modulation. Looks like a serious all-road/dirt tourer.

    • In a rare display of style, Shimano 600 stuff from the era is even more elegant than Campy. I think the early Deore and Deerhead stuff is nice looking as well; and it all works about the same in my opinion, assuming friction shifters. The job of a derailleur is simple, yet upgraded “groups” are sold and resold every year. My friend Chris swears by the steel-bodied Shimano SIS derailleurs found on cheap MTB’s in the early nineties. He claims the strong return spring overcomes cable friction from mismanaged cables/housing and wet weather.

  2. Sounds like good changes for a more comfortable ride. Love the names too…perfect for Dad and Aunt Mary! Looks like you’re having fun and hope you are staying warm!

  3. Pingback: LW ITT Update: Brazos Ridge, NM | gypsy by trade

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s