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.