I fell in love at a very young, impressionable age. From across the room, I saw the beckoning curves of this new companion, and was seduced by the chance to explore — unchaperoned — the farthest, uncharted reaches of my imagination. I hopped on, held on, and soon enough, the (training) wheels came off. I was three years old.
Why does the bicycle elicit so much joy in our lives? Is it, as Gregory Crichlow of Chocolate Spokes says, that you are “always in a convertible”? While I’m not entirely fond of the automobile analogy, it is true, the windows are always rolled down! And that undeniable feeling of freedom, mixed with an ever-increasing combination of confidence and independence, crossed with curiosity? What an intoxicating elixir!
Throughout my life, I’ve felt the unmitigated joy of having owned and ridden many astoundingly beautiful bicycles. Often times it’s the simplest of pleasures to explore your own city, covering miles of emotions worked out over long, languid rides from one neighborhood to the next and as in life, there are always a few true loves.
Hand-me-down bikes from my older brother and sisters followed, and by the age of eight, I was a certified bicycle lothario, spending every possible moment astride my very first NEW bike, the Huffy Paydirt. I chronicled the experience, for my 2nd Grade Language class (which, to my great delight, my Mother saved).
Riding the Paydirt on dirt trails and paths behind my grade school, near the Tom O’Leary golf course, and if I was feeling extra-adventurous, the infamous “Cycle Hills,” a steep, wooded slope of dirt jumps near the local Junior College popular with the older motorcycle crowd, imbued a life-long love for pedaling, a bond that has only ensorcelled me further as life has rolled on.
1993 Bridgestone XO-1
Bridgestone only offered this model for two years in the early ’90s an ahead-of-its-time do-anything cross-over you could ride on the street, in the dirt, and anywhere in between. Not quite unicorn status, but a bike that aficionados still lust after to this day. That’s not why it’s dear to my heart.
My pumpkin orange XO-1 was acquired second-hand from a close friend. Frame couplers were later installed so that the bike could pack down into its own suitcase, which meant easy traveling. I rode that sucker 2000km across dusty Cambodian moonscapes and verdant Vietnamese fields in 2003 on a nine-week tour. I “raced” it in Sweden (2006) and Scotland (2007) in the Single Speed Mountain Bike World Championship events.
It literally has been around the world with me, and in a moment of wanton stupidity I recently sold this bike, but rest a little easier knowing the new owner has embarked upon a series of his own adventures with this sanguine machine.
Soulcraft Royale Road Machine
This is my first “custom” bike, built to my measurements. You could say having a custom bike is like owning a “bespoke” suit, or visiting a Haberdasher. This blue-eyed Soulcraft Royale is the one bike I will unequivocally, absolutely own forever.
What makes it special? Why am I so smitten? So head over heels in love? It is hard to quantify. I suppose it’s much like when you meet “the one.” You just know it.
There is an effortless comfort and familiarity, the miles simply unfold in front of me when I ride the Royale. It seems to sense where I want to go, how fast (or slow) I want to get there. We complete each others sentences and she waits patiently for me to return if I run off with another B-Road …
A man with two custom-built bikes deserves no accolades, but in 2015 I was chosen to be part of a team that rode the Rouge Roubaix, a 105-mile mixed surface road race in the Tunica hills near St. Francis, Louisiana. The Breadwinner boys—Ira Ryan and Tony Pereira—based in Portland, Ore., created an absolute stunner of a bike for this sometimes jaded geezer.
Like me, Ira is from the Midwest, and he definitely has that hard-man mentality, knowing what works, what doesn’t, but ultimately understanding that it comes down to the rider, and the B-Road never gets in the way, only enhances the ride.
The B-Road is a head turner and a quick learner, and the honeymoon phase continues to this day. I love the B-Road, and have used it for fast road rides, gravel races, some week-long tours/light bike-packing. I even rode it 500 miles in 5 days back to Bismarck, ND for my 30th high school reunion. The B-Road loves to explore and handles it all like a boss.
There’s nothing I dislike about it. I’ll ride this one to the edge of the horizon.
In the future, there may be others who will make my heart race and my hands sweat and my head swim with that sweet anticipation of getting to know one another, while exploring new, nebulous frontiers.
But look, I’m human, too, and if I go more than 24 hours without the comforting, cranking caress of one of my true loves, I can devolve into a hot mess of depression and melancholy. Sometimes life will take you in unexpected directions, down unforeseen double-tracks of desire, or avenues of pain, and force you to look deep inside yourself.
And it’s during these tumultuous moments that I know that my foundational love of cycling will never waver, and that I’ll never forget the loves of my life.