Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Long lost loves

In bicycle slang a rider's favorite bike is sometimes called his "True Love" and 30 years ago this week I bought a bicycle at the end of April that still qualifies as my true love. It was an odd bike for me at the time because I was an aspiring racer and it was a touring frame. However, I didn't have a car and needed a bike I could put racks on and use to carry groceries. The owner of the bicycle shop played in a 1950's rock band and needed a period instrument. I had an old Fender guitar and amp that I traded him for a used Dawes Galaxy Frame and $150.00 USD worth of wholesale parts. I'm sure the Guitar was worth more than that in terms of cash but I got the better end of that deal by miles and miles and miles of smiles.

I don't know how a 1970's Dawes was fitted out at the factory. I honestly have no idea. I built my frame up with a chromed double-butted fork, a TA Cyclo-Touriste crank with what was then called "Alpine" gearing and today would be called a "Compact double" That means a 34/50 tooth chain ring set and a 13-28 6 speed freewheel. Suntour VX-Road derailleurs, bar-end shifters and hubs rounded out the drive train. The bike sat on wide Ambrosio tubular rims that I doubt could be found today but then neither could the 32 mm wide silk corded touring tubulars. The obligatory Brooks B-17 saddle, SR stem and Randoneur bars plus Dia Compe Centerpull brakes rounded out the basic bike. A rear rack and Silca pump along with Campagnolo pedals and toe clips finished it off. After I rode the bike about a month I stripped it back down to the bare frame and had the frame repainted a metallic brown and the Nervar lugs outlined with yellow pin stripes, new decals were applied and the whole thing clear coated. All-in-all I spent about $200.00 more on the bike than the credit given to me by the shop. A $350.00 bike back then was the rough equivalent of a $1000.00 bike today so it was nice bike.

But the cost was a bargain. This bike was just special. The long wheelbase and slack angles provided an amazing ride especially when combined with the comfortable Brooks saddle and wide tubular tires. It just seemed to float. With a rear rack, fenders and generator light the bike weighed only about 27 pounds which is lighter than many Mountain Bikes today.

I sold my Japanese made racer that summer and the next racing bike I purchased was from Italy. But, it was the Dawes that I would choose to ride. Yes, it steered like a barge. No, touring bikes don't climb hills well. But it was stable, tracked true, insanely comfortable and magnificently versatile. What it lost in going up the hills it more than made up for in descending the other side. Plus, the fancy lugs and pin striping made it gorgeous. I loved this bike.

I have had my current bike for 9 years since 2000 but I bet I rode that Dawes more in a month than I've ever ridden my Battaglin. The Battaglin is a Triathlon frame. Even though I've refitted it with flat bars, a tall stem and triple crank it is still a triathlon bike. It accelerates fast. Turns on a dime. Is really fun in a lot of ways but it rides like a jackhammer and has tires so narrow that if I am not careful fall into the slots of Hong Kong storm drains. Because I've developed some problems with my ankles I can no longer do the Triathlon thing. I would like to ride more and not so much for exercise as pleasure. Since my job is right beside the long bike trail that runs up to Tai Po I could but it is just so hard to make myself get out. I need a bike I want to ride. A bike I don't have to think about, that I can trust not so much with my health and safety as with my enjoyment.

I have been hording bike components for several months. I don't like a lot of the more modern stuff. Bicycle components since about 1995 have too many gears, are too ugly, not repairable and look like cheap plastic even though they cost like they are made of gold. I've managed over the last several months to collect an almost complete NOS Suntour XC-Pro drive train except for a set of Ringle hubs. I'm planning to build a new bike and relegate the Battaglin to the wind trainer. This new bike will have wide enough tires to not fall in to a storm drain grate. Be geared low enough for a middle-aged guy to enjoy riding, be able to mount a rack as well as fenders if I want while running 32 mm wide tires and do all sorts of things I currently cannot do with my retired Triathlon bike.

It will probably be a (Growl, curse, grumble, mutter) Mountain bike frame which means ugly, designed for 650C wheels and a suspension fork with an aluminum frame. I wish it could be another Dawes Galaxy. I don't think I can afford one of those frames on my school librarian salary even if they were available in Hong Kong. They're welded now anyway so I couldn't have that great pin striping around the fancy lugs. But even a welded Dawes would be a Dawes.

Shortly before I got married in 1986 I was run off the road by a gravel truck. I landed on a concrete culvert and while I was not hurt the crash separated the rear triangle of my Dawes from the main frame. My wife allowed me to buy a Cannondale touring frame as a wedding present. I rode that until we moved to Hong Kong in 1990. It was a great bike. It wasn't my Dawes. Nothing else will be. Nothing else will ever come close.

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who still misses his first true love.

1 comment:

sungaigweilo said...

My Flying Pigeon bike is a looker a well.

It's black, has two wheels, and came with handlebars and big silver bell.