Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Cars I've known...

I have a love/hate relationship with my cars. I love driving, often wandering well off the main roads, getting lost, and finding my way back again. But I hate working on cars or being forced to take them into the garage for repairs. With the ever-increasing complexity of modern automobiles, those garage visits are both necessary and expensive.

The alternative is to ride my bicycle. And believe me, I really appreciate the relative simplicity of a bike. Just for fun, I started drawing up a list of the cars I’ve driven and the bikes I’ve ridden at the same time. I think that cars may have influenced the kind of bike I was riding.

I rode an all-steel German ten-speed way back in college. It was a Kalkhoff and I’ve never seen another one. After I graduated, I bought a ’68 Toyota Corona and the woman destined to become my ex-wife promptly blew it up. I rode the Kalkhoff back and forth to work.

A friend had a Peugeot UO8 that he wanted to sell. I bought it and rode it for a short time. One afternoon, a woman pulled out from a side street as I was coming home from work. “I swear, I never saw you!” she said afterward. I hit her car just behind the front wheel. The Peugeot was totaled.

Meanwhile, I rebuilt the Toyota engine and had it running again. I sold it and got another, much larger car, a 1964 Lincoln Continental. This thing was enormous! It had suicide doors in the back, and the trunk was almost a hangar deck. I could put a fully assembled bicycle back there! I dubbed it the Battlecar Galactica. But the beast sucked down fuel faster than most third world countries. It got all the way up to 6 miles per gallon on the highway, and about 3 miles per gallon in town. I still needed to ride a bicycle to work.

With the Peugeot bent double, I bought a Pennine frame from a local shop. This was high-zoot stuff! It was Reynolds 531 double butted throughout, and it was the first really good bike I owned. I figured that I could just swap the parts over from the Peugeot. This was my rude initiation into the mysteries of French bicycle parts and compatibility. Let’s just say that in order to make things work, I had to spend lots more money than I’d planned. This too was a source of irritation to the woman destined to become my ex-wife.

The Lincoln was in sad shape. The transmission was bad. The exhaust pipes were rusted and it needed tires and brake work. I drove it carefully for a while, but wound up selling it to a guy who blew it up in front of the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. He abandoned it there. It was an ignominious end for a great car.

In 1976, I bought a brand-new Honda Civic. A bike rack promptly went on the back because the only way to transport a bike inside required disassembling it. The bumper rack had the additional advantage of sticking out at grill height. In Pittsburgh at the time, Japanese cars were often targets for vandalism. The rack kept some of my more red-necked neighbors from parking on top of my bumper.

My soon-to-be-ex-wife drove the car for work, so I was still commuting by bicycle. I’d fallen in love with a Paris Sport track bike at the shop, and I used it as a daily commuter. There was a bakery along the route and I stopped there nearly every day, leaning the bike up against the storefront and almost daring anyone to steal it. If you’ve never ridden a fixed gear, let me just say that the first attempt at sprinting will be unforgettable! No one ever touched that bike.

In the space of a year, my job went south, my marriage followed, and my ex-wife ended up with both the Honda and my color television. I really missed that television, especially during football season.

I bought a junker Volkswagen and used it to move out of the city, driving in the dead of night because it didn’t have a valid inspection or license plates. Seriously, when I left the city, I had almost nothing. I was broke and if it hadn’t been for the generosity of some friends, I would have been homeless. They gave me a place to stay while I got on my feet again.

I bought another old Volkswagen, and all the good parts from the junker went into it. I rarely rode my bicycle to work because it was about 17 miles and I worked third shift.

For a couple of years, I rode only on weekends. I was living in a tiny apartment and the two bikes, the Pennine and the Paris Sport, took up a lot of space. Usually they sat in a corner of the bathroom, festooned with drying clothes.

Then I was laid off after Christmas one year. I rarely drove the car because I couldn’t afford to put gas in it. I relied on my bicycle again for basic transportation. I sold the track bike to a friend, and got an old Windsor for a ‘townie’ bike. I set it up with a single-speed and a rack. I attached some PVC tubing to hold my fishing rod. The bike was my basic utility vehicle. It was great for most errands, but carrying a full case of beer on that rack made the handling a bit squirrely.

I won’t write about the aberration called a ’74 Pontiac Firebird, arguably the worst car I’ve ever owned.

In 1984, I bought a new Chevy Cavalier. I loved it! But since I was driving all the time, I seldom got the bike out. Then I re-married. I got a sedentary job. Kids arrived. My waistline grew ever bigger. The Cavalier wore out, and I replaced it with another motor vehicle abomination, a Chevy Corsica.

Somewhere in the Corsica years, I agreed to help with communications at the MS150, riding along with a mechanic and helping out as I could. The mechanic was Tom Brown, of Tom’s River Trail Bicycles in Tulsa. I’d recently started commuting to work again in order to control my burgeoning waistline. I was riding a yard-sale Centurion, (and in fact, I rode that bike to work today!) but Tom talked up the joys of carbon fiber. A few months later, I was atop a nice Giant CFR2.

The Corsica went away unlamented. I bought a Bianchi San Remo for commuting. We bought a Ford Contour as the new family car, and since I was riding to work nearly every day, the Contour was driven very little. It’s now 10 years old and it has 86,000 miles. Of course, since Number One Daughter is now driving, it may pile up some more mileage. The Bianchi has about 20,000 miles.

That’s not all of it. There’s a tandem that arrived as a fiftieth birthday present, a couple of Raleigh Tourists that I bought on a whim, a Schwinn Aluminum that is destined to be another fixed gear bike, and a Schwinn High Sierra that will be set up as a utility bike soon. It’s funny, but to a cyclist, the next bike he plans to buy probably is more seriously considered than a car. Bicycles are intensely personal vehicles. Cars are appliances. That’s too simplistic, I know, but it really sums up the difference.


Blogger George said...

Yeah, I used to be into cars big time.

I still enjoy seeing all the new cars and reading about the new 505 horsepower Corvette but when it comes down to it.......my mini-van is just an ugly green box that gets me back and forth to work.

Am I'm totally okay with that:-)

Let's face it, new bikes are WAY cheaper then new cars.

6:35 AM  

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