Friday, June 13, 2008

Iron Horse

I'm thoroughly convinced that the minute I decide I want something, it totally disappears from the face of the earth.

Case in point: For the past couple of years, the fashion in the city is to get a used clunker of a bike and then buy a lock that costs more than the bike. This has only become more popular given recent gas prices.

I've had bikes in the city twice before. Once was 22 years ago, and the bike was so heavy that I couldn't carry it up and down the stairs. The next one was a lightweight Univega, 20 years ago. I got a lot of use out of that one for about a year, moderate use for the next three, and finally sold it in 1992 when Jim started moving his stuff in and there was just no room. I was working 10 to 12 hours a day by then and had no time to ride.

But this spring I've been concentrating on getting back into shape, so I made a deal with myself like a 10-year-old kid. Please, please, I'll ride it five times a week and it'll save me money on a fitness trainer.

One of my neighbors had bought one from a guy at the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market. I went to check it out three weeks ago, but the guy wasn't there. I'd heard there was a used bike guy at a flea market on Avenue A, only to find out that the Avenue A Flea Market stopped operation last fall. It was in a vacant lot that, like many in the city, is being converted to multi-million dollar condos.

There was another rumor of a used bike guy who worked in front of a thrift store in the East Village. This turned out to be equally unsubstantiated.

I turned to craigslist. The first half-dozen leads yielded me either no response or "sorry it's been sold." This afternoon I was going uptown to buy one from a woman who was "moving, must sell." Just before I left my office, she called to say that her sister had decided to take it.

I was still feeling the glow of Bikemania and determined not to let it fade. So I bit the bullet and went to a new Vintage Bike Store, which boasted Schwinns and Columbias from the 60's and 70's, for about four times as much as my neighbors had paid for their old clunkers.

"Don't you have anything more moderate? I was going to keep it chained in the backyard. At these prices I'd feel like I was chaining a pet out there!"

The knowledgeable bike geeks led me to some one-speed cruisers with pedal brakes that were more in the craigslist range. "They're good bikes, but a lot of people can't get used to not having hand brakes." I was drawn to a Schwinn Breeze from 1972 and took it for a test ride around the block. I didn't mind it having only one speed; my Univega had been a 21-speed and I only used two: Fast and slow. Slow would give my leg muscles a good workout.

I needed a lock. In the years since my old bike, it was discovered that Kryptonite locks from the 80's had been able to be picked with a Bic. Also in the interim, U-locks were passe and a chain weighing more than me was in. Another customer told me the best place to put the chain so that I wouldn't lose my balance and ride into traffic was to wrap it around the seat post.

I also wanted a basket, since one of my bike fantasies has been to ride it early on a weekend morning over to Trader Joe's and to the Union Square Greenmarket, so that I would be bursting with health and goodness from my biking and my natural food products. I got the deepest plain wire basket the bike could fit, since there's never any such thing as leaving Trader Joe's with a small bag. They attached it for an extra $5. All in all, it came out to about the same as if I'd bought one from someone on craigslist and then had gone to a bike store to get it checked out and tuned up.

"Wait! The seat. Is the seat too low?"

Bike geek guy studied me for a second. "Are you an experienced rider?"

"Yeah, twenty years ago."

Bike geek guy's look indicated that he'd suspected as much. "Get used to riding around in the city for a while, and then if you want the seat a little higher, you can bring it back here and I'll adjust it."

I set out for home with my bag in the basket and the chain locking the bag. There was traffic. I internalized every honk.


"All right!"

"Beep! Beep!"

"All riiiiight!"

Then it turned out they weren't beeping at me. I must have been riding better than I'd thought. After all, my first bike when I was a kid had been a one-speed with pedal brakes, and I'd ridden it all over Queens. It was my iron horse, and I'd used it like a grown-up uses a car.

The hardest part about getting the bike home was getting it through the double doors of the downstairs hallway. Then I found a place in the backyard that my neighbors hadn't claimed first--probably because it was too close to the ventilating fan from the restaurant next door. It's also too close to the side of the building for me to see from my window, so I'm hoping it's still there tomorrow morning.

Also, I've made up a new deal: Okay, Pilates classes twice a week and the bike for three, plus an afternoon to be named later. And subject to change when I end up putting the bike on craigslist.

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