Finding a vintage Schwinn on a Friday night of combing intangible want ads (we call it Craig’s list). Lo and behold you can afford it, and bring it home on Saturday morning and give it a good scrub down. The deepest sense of satisfaction. Taking off the layers of garage detritus and polishing the spokes: like simultaneously restoring a neglected painting and rebuilding a crumbling stone wall. Appreciate the craftsmanship and the design from the safe space beside your brave new sidekick.
I haven’t had a bicycle in several years, and the last one I had was found on the side of the highway by a friend of mine who worked for the Department of Transportation. He even fixed it up back at the shop for me. A great gift from the universe, though if it wasn’t much to look at. A free bike’s a free bike. But it didn’t really fit me. It was too big and had the typical mountain bike lumbering bear handlebars; my arms are not long enough to accomplish the appropriate posture and my shoulders always started hurting after a while. Not so with my new Schwinn. [I haven’t looked up the year yet, there is apparently a way to do this, but the guy selling it (who was selling it for a friend and thus knew very little of its history) placed it in the early seventies.]
“Vintage Ladies’ Schwinn” said the ad, and when we arrived at the guy’s house, just a few blocks away from our apartment, there it was waiting in the driveway, a deep red little kind of bike. Red like an old brick road in the rain. The seat was somehow exactly the right height, I could step over it to sit gently (instead of climbing up to the summit, as usually happens), and my feet actually reached the pedals. The frame was strong and light with handlebars right where my hands naturally wanted to be. It had five speeds which all shifted just so and rode so sweetly when I hopped on and took a lap around the block. It already felt like a victory lap. And so I offered the gentleman selling this ride for vintage ladies five dollars less than his asking price (which was low. I was lucky) purely out of habit; I’m pretty sure I’ve never paid the asking price on a Craig’s list purchase. (No wait; there was one really anal couple back in upstate New York who demanded a full hundred dollars or some such figure for their middle-aged bed-frame & mattress which I was in desperate need of as guests were arriving that evening with no place to sleep. I wonder if this couple sensed the desperation in my voice over the phone, and conspired to stay firm at a hundred). Digressions of someone in love with an old bike.
This particular Schwinn reminded me on the way home—stopped to get a bike lock, look at potential baskets—of my mother’s old Schwinn, which was yellow but roughly the same design. The handlebars felt the same. My mom and dad had matching yellow Schwinns (they still have them, I’m pretty sure), but my father’s bike had the racing bike curl-under handlebars, which are even less compatible with my body type than a mountain bike’s. So I borrowed (or outright took without asking) my mother’s bike a lot. Because my old bike in high school didn’t fit right and also it was Ugly. White with bright pink Miami beachish letters blazoned across the frame. Not ugly so much as garish. A lack of style that overshadowed all my painstaking efforts to outshine it. I preferred to ride at night on streets where there wouldn’t be people.
And so, having described three of the bicycles in my past, I should mention the earliest bike I had, which was a red tricycle. Yes, with ribbons coming out of the ends of the handlebars. It could go surprisingly fast, and the three wheel stability was key in our particular driveway, which was long, narrow, and cracking open with roots of the giant willow tree in the front yard. I barely remember this bike, either the feel of it or the model or what happened to it after I outgrew it (I’m sure it went to my younger sister, but I can’t remember her ever riding it. Some objects hold a strange pull over memory). After the red tricycle it was a blue banana seat bike the following Christmas morning and she had a honking loud horn and a basket. A grand bike now suspended from the ceiling of my parents’ garage. For twenty years it’s hung there, give or take, part of a motley crew: my brother’s red BMX bike, my sister’s turquoise scooter, my parents’ yellow Schwinns. One day riding too fast in our neighborhood I went over the handlebars of the blue banana seat bike and knocked out my front tooth. But it was a baby tooth and so it grew back, crisis averted. One day riding not fast at all I went over the handlebars of the found highway bike, and chipped and killed but didn’t knock out my front tooth. After many years of it getting gradually worse and darker and preparing to fall out (this would be a crisis), this past Christmas my mother gave me a new front tooth. Possibly the best Christmas present ever, though the blue banana seat bike is a close second.
That’s all the bikes I’ve known. Six counting this new old one. I’ve only ridden my vintage lady Schwinn around the block but this is more than enough to know it is a great bike; once I find a worthy basket and a backpack I’ll take it on a long ride. The excitement of not being embarrassed of your bike: what will this be like? Also looking forward to seeing the red blood cell red frame against Colorado’s long patches of red rocks. They both get gently redder in a light summer rain.