Friday, July 30, 2010

Bicycles: The End of an Era

I felt as though I had sold a child. Amy handed me a check and drove off with Eugene strapped to the back of her car.

Eugene is a red 1994 Trek 370 Sport bicycle. He was the last in the fifty year-long chain of my two-wheeled companions. Sadly, Eugene spent most of his 15 years with me standing abandoned with the stacks of empty moving boxes and pair of mismatched suitcases that I stashed in storage closets in two states.

I bought my first car shortly after I got Eugene and I no longer had to strap groceries, books, or furniture on the back of my two-wheeled buddy. I had a more demanding job by the time Eugene joined me and I needed more time to think. Walking the three-mile round trip to work provided two quiet interludes in the day. This allowed me to be a spectator to the parade of aging co-workers who limped the halls after bicycling accidents.

For many years Bob Padgett, at Catalina Bike Shop in Tucson, supplied me with bicycles and taught me how to keep them rolling. An article in a local newspaper described Bob's kind and helpful manner and suggested that he might laugh himself silly at his customers' blunders by the end of each day. I'm sure I contributed to Bob's after-hours hilarity.

Bob was a friend to me and to my bicycles. He knew which cones my bicycle friends needed and what size bearings fit in each of their rotating joints. He tried to talk me out of buying a cable cutter, "Oh, just bring your bike in and we'll cut the cables for you when you need it." I bought one anyway because I was a bicycle mechanic. I also needed my own chain tool, spoke wrench, cone wrenches, third hand, bottom bracket wrench, crank puller, freewheel tools, and tire irons.

I was a capable mechanic, a strong cyclist and a confident traveler. I pedaled Eugene from Tucson to the (then) tiny town of Maricopa, 88 miles past saguaros, creosote flats, and irrigated cotton fields, to save the cost of a bus ticket. My bicycles were marvels of simple engineering. I may not have been up to supplying an army with my bicycle, but I kept myself well-supplied until I was nearly 40.

Last spring, my friend Amy saw Eugene standing on my balcony, waiting accusingly for me to rebuild him and put him up for adoption. He he had found his new home.

I visited several bike shops in Boise over the year it took me to finish the one-day job of getting Eugene ready to go live with Amy. But I couldn't find anyone like Bob Padgett in Tucson. No one knew me and no one knew my bicycle. I was looking for parts for a boring old bicycle and I was the age of everyone's mother, so I was also old and boring.

I worked on Eugene long enough that I moved to a new apartment and landed near Bob's Bicycle Shop on Fairview before I was done. I could walk over carrying the 15-year old part that needed to be replaced or pushing the bicycle I couldn't get the 15-year old part off of.

One young man, a mechanical engineering student, pretended to be interested in my bicycle stories. He ignored the fact that I was his mother's age (if she had had children quite late in life) and chatted with me about repairing bikes. I felt like a 20-something bicycle mechanic again and wondered why I hadn't worked on bikes for a living. It would have been an unusual career choice for woman then (or now), but becoming a scientist wasn't a common path either.

I got Eugene fixed up and ready for his life with Amy with several minutes to spare. Over the past year, working on a bicycle for the first time in 12 years, I learned that:

1. Few people fix bicycles from 1994 anymore.
2. Digital cameras let you photograph your bike before you take it apart, increasing the chances you'll put it back together the same way.
3. You can wear disposable rubber gloves while working on your bicycle, eliminating (cool-looking) grimy hands.
4. There are on line videos on how to rebuild (newer but still similar) bicycles.
5. Google can find accessories that Catalina Bike Shop stopped carrying in the 1990s and that you assumed were no longer available.

I was reminded of other things:

1. I cuss a lot while I work on bicycles.
2. Fixing bicycles is more of a duty than a hobby.
3. You feel GREAT when you're done.

I made sure Amy took all my bicycle tools with her when she left, plus the book (1971 edition), so that I'll never be tempted to work on bicycles again.


  1. Thanks, Linda.

    The beauty of it is that now, if you ask me to go on a bike ride with you, I can say, "No, I don't even have a bike."