A Bike for the Ages

On weekends, my neighborhood is part of a popular cycling route—think spandex, fancy bikes, and speed. It attracts pelotons and pairs who enjoy racing downhill through the quieter neighborhoods of our congested city, oblivious to both dogs and deer who could suddenly turn such cyclists into quadriplegics. These riders elicit a mix of annoyance and anxiety, although I must admire their bravery—or maybe it’s foolhardiness.

I was a bit of a “cyclist” myself for a few years; for my last two years of college, I covered much of Auburn, Alabama with my heavy-framed mountain bike. I rode it to class many days of my senior year in particular, even on the warmest days. I’m sure I made quite an impression walking into into my Tichenor Hall journalism class sporting a large sweat mark in the shape of my backpack, straps and all; and I’m not sure I smelled great, but I choose to forget some things.

AstroAI Tire Inflator ... Best Price: $25.44 Buy New $31.99 (as of 11:31 UTC - Details) My mountain bike purchase was born more of necessity than of any adventurous spirit. When my parents dropped me off for my junior year at school, they informed me that I would not be driving a car until I could demonstrate a little thing called “responsibility.” Apparently, they weren’t impressed with the previous year’s four-wheeling excursion in my two-wheel-drive SUV, which had remained parked on a remote Alabama tract for a few days, pending its mud rescue. Therefore, the time was ripe for some college-kid hardship, and hardship it was; suddenly, the grocery store and the tanning bed—essentials at that sad time— were now far less convenient. In desperation, I asked mom and dad if they might consider getting me a bike, and the rest is history.

Graduation brought my regular tanning visits to a close, but I still kept my bike. The purplish-black frame—with original tires— followed me home to Florida, on to Atlanta, through several moves, six babies, four cars—with one cumbersome beast of a bike rack, and a Sprinter van. It has seen most of its action along old A1A and, when confined to Atlanta, along a few Chattahoochee River trails. A few weeks ago, my bike turned 30, making its tenure—next to that of my parents and siblings—the longest relationship in my life.

Mountain biking was a cool, California-inspired 1990’s trend, far more stylish than doodling around on wimpy ten-speeds. It attracted college guys with prospects of outdoor adventure and muddy conquests. On college campuses, it was at least respectable, even if not popular, to be seen among your peers perched on a mountain bike; plus, only professors and doctoral students rode the more embarrassing skinny-wheeled bikes. In the mountain biking heyday, real riders flocked to the ragged terrain of trails; I remember my own first, sorry attempt outside Birmingham, where I quickly discovered what “dead legs” meant.

Sportneer Bike Chain L... Best Price: $13.33 Buy New $17.99 (as of 11:31 UTC - Details) A few years ago, I finally gave in and bought a carbon-framed road bike. Fresh off a triathlon completed with a borrowed hybrid bike, I decided to lighten up and enjoy the speed afforded by more updated, triathlon-winning frames. I even bought the clip-in shoes, a very professional move, it seemed. My first carbon bike practice was in my driveway, where I made a few circles to get a feel for things. A couple of my children stood nearby to watch mom on her new racing bike. The experience hit hard, though; when I stopped, I couldn’t free my foot from the fancy pedal clips, and I fell over, held hostage by the clips—but fully braced for my bone-jarring trip to the concrete.

Triathlons and races are long past, and I ride only on vacation now. As much as I love my bike, I have little sympathy for the grown men who pedal around town in spandex on weekdays, blocking our cars in rush-hour traffic, holding us hostage to their dangerous and ill-timed pleasure. Who dares to pass them on a curving, congested roadway? We must creep along, late to something, while somebody in spandex tempts fate.

This irritating privilege of the carbon-framed class has rendered my old mountain bike that much more handsome, though. Worn gears (with one that won’t stick) and my 1993 campus sticker have an average-Joe street cred that the featherweight class may never know. Happy birthday, mountain bike; and here’s to thirty more.

This originally appeared on Restoring Truth.