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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Languishing...

and going through withdrawal. My bike has gone to meet its maker. Literally. I've sent it back to Bill Davidson in Seattle to see if he can convert the titanium road bike he made me in 1995 to handle Shimano electronic shifting - the result of the July bike crash that's left my right thumb unable to use Campagnolo mechanical shifting.

While I've been walking my dog - the only exercise I've been getting - I've been thinking about my checkered cycling history. Things done wrong, things done right (mostly by accident), memorable rides, and memorable people.

Like most kids, I had a bike growing up. A black Schwinn with a tank horn. Heavy and slow, but kids have an amazing amount of energy. My friends and I would tool around Hamilton Township and Trenton, New Jersey, to see the dinosaurs at the state museum, to dig around in the banks of the Delaware River, and to annoy the cuter girls in our junior high school classes. Then, one day, I parked the bike in our garage and waited to get my driver's license.

I never thought again about bikes or cycling until the mid-70s, when I was living in Richmond, Virginia. a college friend, Merle Steelman, was getting his graduate degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and had bought a 10-speed French Motobecane. "Get a bike and come cycling with me in the Smokeys," he said. I only found one bike shop in Richmond that had two bikes to sell me: a brown Austrian Puch and an orange Swedish Crescent. I went with the Crescent, a beautiful bike with a French Ideale leather saddle, white cloth bar tape, and Heuret Alvit shifters. Only one problem - it didn't really fit me. About 2 cm too tall, a quick stop could result in a painful encounter with the top tube. I rode it a few times in Richmond, and then a few times on the rural roads of Vernon Hills, Illinois. Years later, when my stepson became tall enough, I gave it to him. He didn't much care for road cycling, and so, one day in Laramie, Wyoming, I gave it to the local Salvation Army. One day I saw it chained to a bike rack at the University of Wyoming grounds building.



Just like my Crescent.

Wind back the clock to the early 1980s. Karen and I were married and living in Crofton, Maryland. She was in the Army and had to go through a physical training test every year. She had to train for a two-mile run, and, having suffered a hip injury running track in high school, I accompanied her on the Crescent. I was wary of riding on the busy suburban roads, and then the city put in a boardwalk through the local park. I started riding that on a new Fuji I picked up at a local bike shop. "Fits you like a glove," said the shop owner. Actually, it didn't, I later concluded - 2 cm too short in the seat tube, way too short in the top tube. but, I rode it during our time in Maryland, equipping it with early Look clipless pedals I picked up at Proteus in College Park Maryland. I bought Karen a Fuji as well, a silver mixte. She rode it with me on vacation on the Virginia Easter Shore, and once to the National Zoo. She never warmed to cycling. Too dangerous. Too sweat-inducing. That bike also went to the Laramie Salvation Army.

Very similar to my Fuji.

Early during our 18-year stay in Laramie, I met Charles Pelkey, then a writer for the Casper Star-Tribune, covering the University of Wyoming, where I was public relations director. We became friends and started riding together. He steered me to a great deal on a British-green Bridgestone RB-1 with Shimano downtube SIS shifting. I'll never forget one of my first rides on it. I'd gone for a ride with a friend, Al Deiss, out Hwy. 230. On the way, we met up with Charles and some other riders, who were planning a 60-mile round trip to Woods Landing. Being younger and dumber, I decided to ride out and back with them. Big mistake. Took me 5 1/2 painful hours. Some years later, training for cycling camp, I felt good about completing in in 3 1/2 hours on back-to-back days.

OK, but what's with the seat post length?

The Laramie area was great cycling terrain: the flat ride to Woods Landing; the climb up Telephone Canyon to the Lincoln Monument on I-80; the undulating ride out Herrick Lane, through ranch lands dotted with pronghorn antelope that would sometimes race you along the sides of the road; the steep ride up from Granite Reservoir; and riding up through the Snowy Range to an altitude of 11,000-feet at Libby Flats, and then down to Lake Marie. The first time I made that latter ride was in June, with some friends from UW. I met them about halfway up from Centennial, and unloaded my bike from my car. They exited their van wearing jackets, gloves, leg warmers, booties, and warm caps; I was wearing shorts, a jersey, summer gloves, and a cotton cap under my helmet. Clearly, they knew something I didn't. It was my first summer in Laramie, having arrived the previous autumn. As we approached Libby Flats, the sky split with thunder and lightning, and snow began falling. Then sleet, which made the run down to Lake Marie more than a little treacherous. I returned with the rest of the group to the van, transferred to my car, turned up the heater full-blast, and upon arriving home ordered a jacket, booties, warm gloves, etc. Lesson learned.

Over time, it became obvious that the Bridgestone was too short in the top tube, even with a long stem. After seeing an ad in Velo-News, for which Charles then wrote, I drove to Denver to the Clark-Kent factory, which was then making LeMond titanium bikes. I'd read about titanium bikes, and had even seen some early Sampsons at Velo Swap. I bought a LeMond with, if I remember right, Campagnolo Ergo-Power 8-speed, carbon fork. I loved it. Smooth, fast, and it fit. I climbed better and descended with confidence. Then, one day, I was hit by a car. Stopped at an intersection waiting for a green light, I waved to the driver in the oncoming left-turn lane to ensure that she saw me. She didn't; she said the sun had been in her eyes and she roared off the line just as I started crossing, blowing me out of the pedals. My helmet hit her windshield, embedding glass in the helmet foam liner - and my neck. The next day I had to drive to northwest Wyoming looking as if someone had tried to cut my throat. The bike was damaged; I didn't know how badly, but I knew I wouldn't trust it screaming down Telephone Canyon.

Loved this bike, but later read that the welds sometimes broke!

The driver's insurance company came and took the bike. They paid for my minor medical bills and a new titanium bike. I decided to go custom to ensure a good fit after years of a kind-of-fit. In one of the many cycling magazines to which I then subscribed, I was a gorgeous Davidson Stiletto, steel, in purple and white paint. I discovered that Bill Davidson also made bikes in titanium. During a vacation in Seattle soon thereafter, Karen and I stopped by Elliot Bay Bicycles to see Bill. He measured me up, decided on components, and gave me the estimate. Karen's always been supportive of my cycling expenditures, and I've always appreciated it.

With my Davidson, second-from-right at the 1997 Carpenter-Phinney camp.
The bike came while I was in Florida, visiting my parents. I unpacked it when I got home; it was beautiful. Campy 8-speed Ergo Power; Cinelli bars and stem; Mavic Open Pro wheels. I've ridden that bike for 18 years in Wyoming, at the Carpenter-Phinney bike camp in Colorado (thanks to Davis and Pete Penseyres for pushing me part way up Copper Mountain when I had a hamstring cramp) and here in Idaho and Washington. Along the way, I've changed out a lot of components (Selle San Marco Regal, to Fizik Aliante, to Specialized Toupe; Cinelli bars and stem to Deda; seatpost from Cinelli to American Classic; wheels from Open Pro to Mavic Helium, to Neuvation R 28; Campy 8 to Campy 9) but, as I once said, the Davidson was my lifetime frame.

With my Davidson at the 2012 Spokane Tour de Cure


This autumn, after a stray dog crashed into me while riding Washington's Centennial Trail (or so the ambulance crew told me) and I suffered a concussion, broken ribs and a dislocated thumb - thank you, Giro helmet - I found the thumb would no longer operate the Campagnolo rear cluster shifting without significant pain. The thumb, which was actually subluxed, wasn't going to heal. So, I test rode several carbon bikes with Shimano mechanical shifting and one with electronic shifting. The mechanical, which doesn't involve use of the thumb, was comfortable; the electronic shifting was very comfortable. I loved the Canadian Cervelo R3; liked the Specialized Tarmac and the Scott CR-1; and hated the Specialized Tarmac. Local bike shops that carried the Italian Pinarello, the American Felt and the Spanish Orbea had nothing in my size for a test ride. So, I put the whole exercise on hold. Winter was coming. Then I contacted Elliot Bay to see if Bill could convert my 1995 bike to internally mount Shimano's Di2 electronic shifting. Bob Hoffman, who runs Elliot Bay, said he could.

And, so, I wait, walking my dog, anticipating delivery of a new set of Neuvation wheels before Christmas, selling off my Campy group bit-by-bit on eBay, and hoping that the converted Davidson will arrive shortly after the wheels come. No time estimates yet. Maybe by the annual February thaw. I need to get in some miles before this year's American Diabetes Association Tour de Cure.

Thanks to the local bike shops that let me test ride their frames: Wheelsport East, Fitness Fanatics, and Vertical Earth. Doesn't look as if I'll be buying a frame from them anytime soon, but they'll always get some of my business.