Archives For cyclotouring

I want to ride my bicycle

January 29, 2003 — 10 Comments

This is my bike. It’s a strange bike and it’s a rare bike. It’s a 1993 55cm Bridgestone XO-1. It’s a collector’s item. And for the last two years, it has been criminally underused.

Bridgestone is a bicycle company which no longer exists in the country (they still make bikes in Japan). It was run in the U.S. by a man named Grant Peterson, a man who embodies pretty much everything I value in bicycles, chiefly the concept of functionality.  The bicycle racing world and the mountain biking world have succumbed in many ways to the same hypermarketing which makes the S.U.V. so popular. Titanium bikes, bikes with dual shocks, bikes with hydraulic disc brakes, bikes with a gazillion gears…none of these things are necessary (or even practical), but it’s becoming harder and harder to walk into a bicycle store and find anything but these features on all the bikes. Bridgestone lovers are often wrongly accused of being luddites or “retro”freaks. I think we’re open to all bicycle technology, but we’re skeptical about the need for much of it, especially since the newer stuff sucks you into a neverending upgrade cycle.

My bike is made of steel, and the steel tubes are joined by lugs. There’s an artistry to building a bike with lugs, but it’s a functional art. It’s a strange bike because it has roadbike geometry but rides on 26” wheels, which are most commonly found on mountain bikes because they are stronger than 700c wheels you find on roadbikes.  1993 was the only year in which Bridgestone spec’ed cantilever brakes on this bike (cantilever brakes are desirable for cyclotouring), it was the only year in which this bike was painted pumpkin orange, and it was Bridgestone’s last year of existence in this country.  Only 1,000 of these bikes were made, and there are probably only about 300-400 of those left, if that.  Finding one in even mediocre condition in the proper size is about as likely as being struck by lightning. I looked for three months and found one…my size, in mint condition, for not a lot of money…for less than any other bike I’ve ever bought. To say I was lucky is an understatement.

I built the bike up from scratch.  It took me five months. I built the wheels from a handful of spokes, a couple of rims, and some really nice hubs.  I scoured every corner of the web for parts that no longer exist, parts that are nostalgically remembered for their elegant and simple but still utilitarian design. The first time I rode this bike was in Santa Cruz.  I finished putting it together, put it in a box, and took it with me the first time I flew out here to look for housing.

During my first year in Santa Cruz, I put roughly 5,250 miles on my bike. It sounds like a lot, but it isn’t.  Think about how many miles a year that you put on your car just running errands around town. Then just think of riding a bike instead of driving a car. Still, it’s probably 5,200 miles more than most people put on their bikes. The year before, I put about 7,800 miles on one of my other bikes meandering around Maine and biking across Illinois.

I rode to school almost everyday that first year. It’s a short ride to school, about 2.5 miles (4km) between my house and most of the places on campus I need to go, but about 2.49 miles of that ride is uphill.  Up a big hill.  A mountain, even.  After getting to school, riding between classes, and riding back, I’d put about 7-10 miles on my bike.  I used to be able to ride to the top of campus in 14 minutes. For me the triumph in that is not that it approaches Lance Armstrong speed (it doesn’t), but that it often beat the amount of time it took to ride a bus the same distance.

We have a pretty good bus system here; every bus in the county is equipped with bike racks.  I don’t seem to recall the resolve I must have had that first year when I biked up the mountain instead of loading my bike onto the bus and biking down the mountain like most people do.

So, my first year, 5,250 miles.  How many miles have I put on my bike in the last two years? Just 1,049.  This decrease in mileage is evinced not only on my odometer, but on my body and my constitution as well.

Why have I told you all of this? I tell you these things because I’m going to make a point of biking again this year. So far: 14 miles. 

I tell you these things because I re-realized while biking to school the other day that god damn, that’s a big mountain.