I’m trying to remember a book I read back when it was important that a book have good illustrations. For once, the Internet is of no help. So, I’ll try to pass along the gist of the story as best I remember it.
It is the story of a boy with a beat-up bicycle. The boy decides to fix up the bicycle to sell it, and in the process of cleaning, painting, oiling, tightening and adjusting, he decides he likes the reconditioned bicycle too much to sell it. Instead, he rides and enjoys the bicycle even more than before because he has used his own mental resources and physical exertions to restore it to service.
What was old is new, and desirable, again.
I guess the book is now out of print, because if citizens of the United States know anything, they know two things: nothing is worth fixing and extended warranties are a rip-off. Okay, maybe three things: Josh Whedon’s old show Buffy the Vampire Slayer is still, like, awesome.
Back in the day, though, I was impressed by the boy’s ability to bring his bicycle back to life, and I often wonder whether it was that old, half-forgotten book that inclined me toward the bicycle trade.
His story is one of a long line of morality plays, though somewhat modernized by virtue of occupying the intersection of stoicism and American materialism. (Judging by my notes in one college paperback, classic stoicism promoted virtue as the only reasonable source of happiness. This may account for the fact that Marcus Aurelius neither discussed the joys of bicycling nor the benefits of preventive maintenance.)
Whether inspired by the story or driven by need, I repaired my own coaster brake bike shortly before the last moon landing. Fixing your bicycle is a great way to become more self-reliant. If you can replace a broken axle and use the reborn bicycle to explore and escape your neighborhood, you’ve got it made.
Later, after meeting people already empowered to do whatever it was that they did, I spent a bit over a decade fixing their bicycles, which, as far as I know, the boy in the book did not do.
I assume he hung up his old coaster, bought a Peugeot UO-8, loaded it with canvas panniers and a Coleman tent and rode across the North American continent in 1976. Then, after a succession of surprisingly mediocre careers as window washer, waiter and public prosecutor in 1980s and 1990s South Carolina, he moved to Seattle, first to recondition old VW Westfalia vans, then to grow the world’s highest-quality marijuana in his basement, hoping against hope that drug laws in the United States would not be repealed, which would surely cut into his small, lucrative and fiercely individualistic business.
So far, so good.
I assume all this because, as I recall, the book did not cover the boy’s career after he fixed his bicycle. But enough of that—this is not a book report, biography, indictment of Seattle or a review of the country’s prohibition laws. This is a tribute to memory, inspiration and fixing that which would normally go unfixed.
Like Les Siegrist’s 1972 Schwinn Sports Tourer, which I acquired without wheels. Unlike the boy in the book, I am not setting out to fix a bicycle to sell it. I’m fixing it to fix it and ride it. (I may touch up the paint, but I’m not going to get carried away and refinish the thing.)
One reason has to do with the wisdom of age: I know I will spend too much time and money on the project. No one wanted the Schwinn before I took it in, and no one will want it after I get it back on the road. It’s like mounting a Beetle Bailey cartoon from the Journal Star in an expensive frame: you can do it, but not even a publicity-hungry Mort Walker will return your investment to you.
The other reason is that I like riding old bikes and getting unused ones back on the road. I’m not interested in restoring them to like-new condition, just to where everything works. They go when they’re supposed to go. They stop when they need to stop. On the Island of Misfit Toys, I’d be my own Santa Claus. If bicycles were animals, I’d make a passable Cat Lady.
At least I’m not hiding out in a basement in Seattle.
Instead, I’m working in my own basement 16 inches west of Peoria. I’ve stripped the Schwinn back to the frame and removed the dirt and traces of asphalt from long-ago rides in the heat of summer. Polishing compound? Love that stuff. I’m also checking out the nail polish aisles for something that will approximate Schwinn Opaque Blue. I may even get some for the bike.
And I’ve been gathering replacement parts, including this six-speed, 14-34 Shimano MegaRange freewheel.
While the freewheel is old technology, it has at least one thing in common with modern zoomy carbon-fiber frames: plenty of room for branding.
Let’s go to the charts, shall we?
Comparing the original five-speed specs on the left to those of the six-speed on the right, you’ll see that I’ve retained the same high and low gears and reduced the gaps between most of the cogs. I expect I’ll most often use the 16, 18 and 21 cogs with the small chainring and the 18, 21 and 24 with the large chainring.
It’s quite a jump between the 24-tooth and 34-tooth rear cogs, but when you’re struggling up a hill, you only need one thing: rapid access to a decent bail-out gear that will keep you moving forward.
This is an excellent freewheel; I can think of at least a couple of hills in the area where that 32-inch low gear will come in handy.
Check out the back of the unit—I’ve never examined a MegaRange before. The 34-tooth cog is pinned to the 24-tooth cog, which is, in turn, pinned to the 21-tooth cog, the largest cog that is directly attached to the freewheel body. I don’t know what to make of the design—maybe it’s lighter, maybe it’s easier to clean.
Finally, this note to Seattle’s fictional basement boy: I traded my freewheeling supplier, Ray Keener, three bags of blue popcorn for this example. Believe it or not, it’s perfectly legal to do so. I include a picture of one of the bags because while it is from Amish Country, it is not a person.
Next time: I make room for a six-speed rear hub with theonly precision frame alignment tool too big for my workshop’s pegboard: a 2×4 stick of lumber.