My old bicycle has outlasted the two motorcycles and three vans I’ve owned and all of the places I’ve taken my bike for parts and repairs.
This bike is one of a kind, pieced together from parts I scavenged in the 1960s in an alley near my dad’s chemical company. Dad refused to buy bikes for my siblings and me, saying the neighborhood was littered with discarded parts from stolen bikes. All an enterprising kid had to do was find what he needed to build a bike.
That’s what I did, piecing together six bikes for my three siblings and me. The two extras were replacements for bikes that I’d made that were stolen. None of the six was pretty. But they got us around and gave us a sense of independence and freedom.
Parts that I couldn’t find, like fenders that fit, bags and other accessories, I purchased new with change saved from working at dad’s company. All of those bike stores are long gone in addition to the bicycles that I made for my siblings.
The two-wheeler that I rode daily, starting in 1969 to high school, to class in college and still ride on assignments within a two-mile radius of The Star is the only survivor. Compared with today’s light-weight, multispeed bicycles, it is a tank.
This bike has outlasted a Crossroads bike shop, which in 2008 replaced my worn-out, one-speed, coaster-brake back wheel with a three-speed rim because I was getting too old to power a one-speed, the shop owner told me. That repair place has become something cute and trendy.
Such adjectives never described my bike or me. But I did add a cool new part to my ancient bike this year. It’s one I’ve always wanted but never seemed able to find.
It is a flat rack that attaches to the raised post holding the seat and hangs over the rear fender. I added the chrome front and back fenders shortly after I put the bike together 44 years ago. The Schwinn shop where I bought them is long gone.
I wanted the rack because it makes it easier to carry my briefcase. The basket on the front of the bike, which I added in the early 1970s, has hauled books, groceries and other things over the years.
The basket can accommodate my briefcase, but it’s too much of a balancing act to brace it with one hand while pedaling, braking, steering and being watchful of inattentive motorists.
This bike with balloon tires weighs a ton with its welded and re-welded iron frame and other heavy metal parts. Adding anything to it boosts the weight.
More weight on this bike means a lot more stress on me — especially going uphill. When I was a lot younger, I had added a kid seat to the back of my bicycle so I could take my daughters on trips to the store or to neighborhood parks, where we’d play. Each girl with her cute bike helmet initially didn’t add much to the load.
But as each girl grew older and heavier, the ride became more difficult. It was compounded when I rode the younger daughter in the kid seat and the older girl on the crossbar next to me. (I admit this doesn’t conform to safety standards.)
That’s what kids did when I was a teen. It was fun to share the bug of biking with my daughters. Leslie, my youngest, now commutes to work by bike in New York City.
But nothing about adding to my old bike is easy. New parts don’t fit. Everything has to be altered, the new rear rack included. Its adjustable bolts wouldn’t tighten enough for the rack to hold securely.
But I made it work, adding a piece of rubber and a metal sliver cut from an old car license plate, which I keep around for simple fixes. The old bike provides great, forever-green transportation from home to work when I crave the open air. People still laugh and point as they always have. That started when I was a kid. It continues generations later as I pedal into old age.