Sunday, January 30, 2011

Desert Raleigh

When borrowing a bicycle from my hotel in Tucson earlier this month, I walked outside to see what was on offer. I had been told to expect a raggedy collection of weather-worn cruisers, but to choose whichever I liked.

Imagine my surprise when this was locked up alongside the cruisers:

It was a 1968 Raleigh Sports in black.  The paint was in new condition and it was clearly the apple of someone's eye.  It had been lovingly, if bizarrely, customized.

For example, there was a new Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub in place of the original and a shifting mechanism that looked unnecessarily huge.  New alloy wheels had replaced the Nottingham steel versions.  But these were nothing compared to the additions made to the saddle and handlebars.  First, the bars:

These are big eye bolts, basically.  They're screwed into sawed-off sections of a broom stick and then the whole thing was glued into place in the bar ends.  I studied this bike for ages, trying to understand if the loops had some function for the rider.  Did he put his thumbs through these?  A prosthesis of some kind? 

On to the saddle.  Under the Safeway bag lay a loose swath of leather, which was stitched together over some fleecy padding.  I couldn't tell what was under the fleece, although I was soon to learn.

Just a day after I encountered this bike, I was lucky enough to look out of my hotel window and spy its owner cycling back from an outing.  I rushed downstairs in time to meet him as he locked up his masterpiece.

This is Tony, I think.  I should have posted this sooner... I can't be 100 percent sure he isn't Ed.  But really, what's the difference to you? Let's go with Tony.

Tony is the original owner of the bicycle.  He bought it in the Phoenix area brand new 40+ years ago and rides it every day. 

He even demonstrated his riding technique, which disappointingly does not involve any use of the loop ends to the bar extensions.  He merely wanted a more upright position and found these bolts an easy way to get a bit more reach.  As for the saddle?  Under the homemade mattress of leather and fleece is the original Brooks. 

Clearly, Tony made different choices than I would with a 40-year-old Raleigh.  But I have nothing on him when it comes to authenticity and standing as a Raleigh owner.  He rides it every day, straps it on the back of the RV when traveling, bickers with the front desk staff over the security of storage areas, and truly loves his ride. 

Here's wishing Tony many more years of happy cycling on his one-of-a-kind Sports.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cycling in Tucson

This is one trip  I did not expect would include a bike ride.

I got a call from a client 20 minutes after the shooting Saturday asking how quickly I could be at the crime scene.  As it happened, I wasn't able to get there before mid-day Sunday, some 24 hours later.

Since then, I've been working in Tucson and experiencing a community that is in a genuine state of shock and grief. I've been around a few hundred homicides in my career, but I've never seen anything like I'm witnessing this week.  It seems that everyone was touched by this tragic act of violence. 

I've lost count of the conversations in which it has dawned on me that the person to whom I'm talking was intimately acquainted with one of the deceased victims or was actively involved in rendering aid to the wounded.  While the rest of us talk about shooting in an almost academic sense, the people of Tucson are talking about it as though they were members of the same family. This tragedy happened to all of them and they're feeling the shock and grief and confusion in a visceral way.

To be honest, I still can't get my head around the scope of this crime.  Tonight, I met with 30 or so people who were at the scene of the crime.  Watching them hug each other and cry left me stunned with the realization that each of them would lead lives forever changed by 30 seconds of gunfire on a random Saturday morning.  Moreover, each of their families will forever mark time based on what happened before and what happened after Saturday.  Hundreds, no, thousands of lives were changed in that tiny burst of time Saturday and this town will be different forever as a result.

But back to bikes.

It was a very pleasant surprise to see that my hotel offers free loaner bicycles to guests.  When I found a quiet hour or so around mid-day, I decided to take one for a spin to the nearest store to buy a few things I needed.  In particular, the Arizona desert air made lip balm a vital necessity.

My ride was a rickety Huffy cruiser.  Calling it a bike-shaped object would be flattery.  But nevertheless, I truly enjoyed the half-hour of freedom and breeze that came with riding it along an arroyo and into the parking lot of Trader Joe's. 

Here (if it works) is a moment of my ride.  Prepare to be bored for 25 seconds... but the dead-dry arroyo is kinda cool in its own way.

They say that it's good to go back to familiar things when confronted with new and confusing circumstances.  For me, today, that meant getting to ride a bike for a little while and remembering how much goodness there is in the world.