This bicycle is just my speed

For several months, I pondered buying a new bicycle, but I couldn't talk myself into it. No matter how many new models I sat on, none were as comfortable as the jalopy I bought from a neighbor 15 years ago for $25.

It was a three-speed, but over the years the three-speed parts wore out. They stopped making the three-speed clicker and hub. So my three-speed became a single speed.

The black Raleigh, Rigby, and Royal Escort-type bikes used to be called "English racers." Mine is more of a night crawler. It is glossy black, and it's slow. But it is so comfortable I can ride about town for a long while without becoming numb in the posterior.

Sometimes dissatisfaction with ancient technology creeps into my thought, though. I go look at new bikes again, many of them designed with the Tour de France in mind. The seats are so narrow, and so firm, griping can follow after five minutes in the saddle. The handlebars are so flat and dropped that a rider can practically lie down to sleep while pedaling.

There are fancy grips, springs, shock absorbers, alloy wheels, knobby tires. A student in grade school would need a lot of allowance to buy one.

After looking at new bikes, I am flushed with new gratitude for my night crawler. I buy a new inner tube for a flat tire, or a new link for a broken chain, fix what's wrong in minutes, and ride on for another year.

Three-speeds are making a comeback. I am seeing them in stores, but with a snazzy new design that I could not repair to save myself if something went wrong. I will stick with my single-speed. Single-speeds have traveled the world over, with maintenance almost nil.

Margaret LeLong rode one from Chicago to San Francisco in 1896, contending with cowboys, Indians, rustlers, no roads, and loneliness. Dervla Murphy, an Irish nurse, took 175 days off and rode her Armstrong bicycle 4,000 miles from Dunkirk, England, to New Delhi. It was a trip so hazardous that she nearly met her end twice. And Thomas Stevens, the grandfather of two-wheeled pioneers, rode his high-wheeled "boneshaker" from Oakland, Calif., to Boston in 103 days in 1884. Many perils and delights accompanied him.

My bike, leaning against the garage wall, is devoid of accessories: no kickstand, no fenders. It does have an ancient but sturdy front basket that has carried groceries, auto parts, coolers, potted plants, and motor oil. It will not be put through the paces of its pioneers. The old bike keeps me stubborn, preferring old, simple things to brand-new, complicated, expensive ones.

It is the same wisdom and pride, perhaps, that Cubans in Havana feel toward their pre-embargo American cars: Use common sense, watch expenses, and keep the '54 DeSoto going another year. If the parts can't be found, then make them (and they do!).

I realized I did not have enough groceries for the weekend, Traffic would be bottlenecked, so I decided to save the liquid gold I get at the gas pump. Out came the night crawler for another ride to the Sav-A-Lot. Two competitive cyclists whoosh past me, necks bent, perspiration running down them, proud of how fast they can go. So what?

With spare inner tubes and chain links, the night crawler will get me there in its own time, for a long time to come. It's built for comfort, not for speed.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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