Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bicycle memories

I guess it's a wonder that I'm still alive.

Years and years and years ago, in my other, more youthful and athletic lifetime, I pedaled my 10-speed bicycle all over the place. It was seemingly, for a while, my primary mode of transportation, even though I had a car and a driver's license.

I just loved to ride my bike.

A couple weeks ago, I covered the Tour de Pig for The Dispatch. This is the annual pre-Barbecue Festival event that offers a pleasant, scenic, noncompetitive bicycle ride through the back roads of Davidson County. It's usually held on the Old Greensboro Road behind Davidson County Community College on routes of varying distances.

My first 10-speed looked something like this. Except it was gold...
 But the Tour brought back some fond memories.

What always strikes me about this event is the riders themselves, many who come fully outfitted in complete bicycle riding paraphernalia, including helmet, biking tights and jersey.

Say what?

Okay, I understand wearing the helmet. But why do you need riding tights and jersey?

Back in my day (I never thought I'd live long enough love to utter that phrase), my summer riding gear included a T-shirt and casual shorts, socks and sneakers. Ta dahh. Helmet was optional, and I opted not to wear one.

Hey, I was 21 years old and bullet proof.

Most of my bicycling happened in the mid-to-late 1970s. A friend of mine had just purchased a 10-speed bicycle and talked me into getting one. It was cutting edge technology back then, featuring a derailleur that shifted the bicycle chain from one gearing sprocket to another.

The 10-speed (mine was a Schwinn Varsity) was a great advance over the three-speed bikes (we called them "English" bicycles because we thought this was what Mary Poppins used in England), whose gearing cable on the handlebar mysteriously ran into the rear axle, where the gears were supposed to be. I took that on faith, because you could never see the gears, since they were inside the axle. Also, you really could never feel the change in gears when you operated the fragile looking gear lever.

Ahh, but the 10 speed was different. First of all, the bike was built on a lightweight frame. You could lift the bike with one hand. And the gears (sprockets) were visible. The derailleur levers were usually mounted on the main support frame, and when you operated the lever, you could actually see the chain move from one sprocket to the other.

That was awesome.

The bike also featured an uncomfortable seat that actually put callouses on my glutes (or so it seemed). But the seat was adjustable and usually you rode with your butt in the air, with your torso bent forward and slightly downward for streamlining.

And then there were the handlebars. Now these were cool. They were the racing kind, with curved downward grips and where the hand brake levers were located.

And there were those incredibly thin tires. Wow.

You couldn't help but feel special. Or cosmopolitan. Or, at least, English.

Anyway, I quickly learned helmetless bicycle safety. I was always careful at intersections, usually waiting for no traffic at all before proceeding. My head was constantly on a swivel, because I had no mirrors. And in the countryside, I always rode on the white border stripe marking the shoulder. You know. Because of cars.

My biggest nemesis were dogs. Unchained dogs, sleeping peacefully on front porches, somehow assumed that the passing bicyclist was a rabbit extraordinaire and would give chase. I had two choices: I could pedal as fast as I could and try to outrace the incisors bearing down on me, or I could dismount and put the bicycle between me and the dog as a barrier. Sometimes it worked. I think I got nipped just once in my riding career.

It's a wonder I'm still alive.

(Coming up shortly: Part II - The best bicycle ride I ever had.)

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