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home > community > viewpoint > a crash into the past

A crash into the past
Summer triathlon training breaks up more than the monotony!

A crash into the past

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By Chris Russell
Posted Friday, 21 July, 2006

I was spinning up a shallow up hill on my familiar loop course. I was head down, contemplating the serene peacefulness of my skinny French tire spinning with metronome perfection. The road slipping by in the background was mesmerizing against the blur of the spokes.

The road was recently renovated from a rut strewn cart path to a high, smooth, shiny, black asphalt runway. No bumps or holes to avoid, just the whir and click of my machine beyond the rhythm of my iPod. I like to eat this sleepy, unpopulated section of road, without too many cars to compete with, for lunch.

Then, in this exercise trance, my front tire drifted too close to the edge. The new tar dropped off 8 inches into a soft sand and pine needle bed. I was sucked in before I could recover. The front tire bound in the sand and, unable to steer, I felt myself falling on my left side. It came to me in a long, slow motion ‘oh shit’.

Reactions burnt in from childhood biking kick in and I move to ‘lay it down’, but these days my feet are locked in and there is no way to break the momentum. I bounce. Shoulder, iPod, elbow, hip and left pedal all hitting the tar at the same time. 2000 foot pounds of energy inelastically transferred in a Newtonian crunch. It’s all over in a flash.

The force knocks my feet out of the Speed Plays. I bounce up full of adrenaline and pain. Oww! I dance around in a little impromptu pain jig. Simultaneously I’m checking various body parts for permanent damage. I’ve got some chinks in the armor, but nothing structural. A couple patches of bloody road rash where the epidermis has been sanded off to reveal the inner me. There will be some blood and bruising, but I’m ok.

I’ve got an interesting linear bruise on my outer bicep where I bounced on my iPod. The iPod itself, a mini, skipped on impact to a new ironic song, (“Burned” by Neil Young), but otherwise is unharmed in its silicone armor.

What about my poor bike, Fuji-san? Is this the end for my old friend of eight years? The tired-but-rugged racing bike has been showing its age. It has been due for a tune up for awhile, but it is the only bike I own. I’ve got a race in two weeks and can’t afford to take a week off.

Once I stopped hopping around in pain I assessed the damage. The handlebars are askew, but other than that everything seems intact. I straighten out the handlebars with a tug and a twist and remount to ride the shaky miles home. I’ve definitely got to bring it in now. I can’t ride it until it’s checked out. I think to myself, “Crap! – How am I going to train this week?”

The bike shop lady tries to talk me into a new bike every time I come in. She’s a dealer I the suburbs who preys on confused affluence. Call me miserly, but I have a hard time spending $2000+ for a new bike. The one I have works fine and is plenty fast for the sprint triathlons and 50 – 60 miles a week I ride. Bikes are expensive. Every time I bring it in there it cost $200 or more. It’s like owning a horse or a yacht; the payment never stops.

As I peddle gingerly home dripping blood on the pavement I consider the alternatives. I could swap my pedals over to my piece-of-crap Peugeot combo bike, no that won’t do. I could bite the bullet and by the new bike, relegating Fuji-san to a winter bike. I suppose I could go out onto the Internet and get a ‘good deal’ by piecing together my own bike or buying some serious rider’s castoff bike at a discount. I don’t really know enough about the intricacies of the sport for this, and I need to train again within the next 2 days.

In my town we have to take our trash to the dump. The old dump has been closed for 15 years. It’s really a transfer station with dumpsters to throw the trash in and recycling stations. People leave used, but serviceable items out for any takers. I’ve been looking for a castoff bike for my teenage daughter. I wanted to find one of those women’s style 10 speeds we had when we were kids because she hates the combo bike we bought her. (In a fit of teenage pique she rode it once and named it “I hate you.”)

Most of the bikes that are left off at my dump are from the “cheap-crap” era of mass-produced, low quality junk that dominated the 80’s through today. It’s cheaper for people to buy their kid a new bike than repack a bearing or fix a brake cable. They get tossed into the scrap metal pile to be barged back to China to make more cheap bikes.

On this day, shortly after crashing Fuji-san, I’m at the dump and taking a quick scan of the junk. There are several bikes in there so I wander over to take a closer look. Most are Junkers, pulled out of the back yard or out from under the porch after years of being a nature habitat for ants and earwigs.

One is not. It is a classic Raleigh. I extricate it for a closer look. Rubbing the dust off the name plate I can see it is an original Raleigh Grand Prix, and it’s in great shape. The tires have no rot. The brake pads aren’t dried out. The derailleur works fine. Someone loved this bike. It has the classic “Made in Nottingham England” stamp.

This was a state of the art racing bicycle, brand new while Nixon was in office. Someone parted with the obscene amount of close to $200 for this baby. This was from the zenith of Raleigh’s production before cheap competition forced them off shore. I take it home.

After dropping Fuji-san off at the bike shop for a new tire, chain and cassette I triage my new Raleigh racing bike. Halleluiah! My Speed Play peddles fit right in. The tires are in great shape. They are not the original Dunlop tires. They are a high quality Japanese replacement. They pump right up to 90 PSI and hold firm.

It’s a major relief not to have to struggle with the adapter for the little French tires. The British used a standard tire inflation stem, no adaptor necessary. I squirt a little oil into the squeaky bits, that’s right, Oil, not high tech silicon fluid, good old 10W40. A couple of test rides around the neighborhood, a few brake and wheel adjustments and I’m ready to go.

The Raleigh has a couple layers of license stickers from Washington DC. Whoever you are out there who left your beloved commuting bike to the fates, rest assured it has fallen into good hands.

Out on the course it handles like an old truck compared to Fuji-san. It makes rattling and squeaky noises when I’m up in the saddle. It doesn’t seem to have as much top end, but it’s hard to tell. If I had to guess, I’d say I’m 10-20% slower. It’s heavy. My friend Francois the competitive biker jokes that the front wheel weighs more than his bike. I don’t care, I’m getting a great work out and I’m thinking about a simpler time.

It’s strange to look down and see those big tires, or should I say ‘tires’ as I’m spinning along. It gives me flashes of the art deco Pirelli posters you see hanging in pretentious coffee shops. I’m a retro racer. I need one of those leather flying-helmets. I find myself humming Rossini and thinking back to sequences from the “Breaking Away” movie. I’m not worried about sand and puddles. I’m not frantic to avoid hitting pointy rocks that menace those fickle skinny French tires. This thing can take it. It’s impervious. It’s a tank.

When this bike was made I was myself a young teenager. I remember cobbling together my own ten-speed from the discarded bikes left by my older siblings. I remember riding for miles and miles. It wasn’t for exercise. It was for freedom. It was the key to transport a 12 year old where he needed to go. Where he needed to go was everywhere and anywhere.

After a week I went and retrieved Fuji-san. Training for a week on the Raleigh was like running with weighted shoes. Fuji-san is an easy ride now and I remember the thrill of when we first rode together. The power up the hills is so fluid it makes you feel like Zeus and the unimaginable speed down like Mercury.

Sir Walter has been relegated to the background now with the race approaching. I’ll leave the Raleigh down at the vacation house. Perhaps the renters can mount the past and enjoy the freedom of their youths too.

In this world where everything goes very fast perhaps there is room for things that are merely solid. In reclaiming an old horse you can make time stand still and step out of the current for awhile. Take my advice and go retro for a couple weeks, you’ll learn something old about yourself.

See you out there.



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