Wednesday, July 30, 2008

On the Personalities of Old Bikes

Having worked on a few now, it has become pretty obvious that old bikes all have unique personalities. Sure, I know a mass of metal and rubber isn't really sentient, but there's something in each old bike that perhaps brings out different aspects of my own personality. For instance, my Columbia, the bike that started this blog, is like an old friend. I know him inside and out, and whenever a problem crops up, I'm happy to do what I can to help. We go out and have fun together, but we're also just happy hanging out. He's sturdy and reliable, and just an all around great guy.

My Peugeot, on the other hand, is kind of an ass (he is French, after all--apologies to the French). He has dramatic problems that confuse me, and he refuses to let me in on his deepest secrets. There are parts of him that I just don't have access to, and that, frankly, scare me. But man, if I ever want to just get out there and go, he's always right there with me. And he's stylish, too, like a fast car or a well-bred horse.  But sheesh, is he ever high-maintenance. We may someday have to go see a professional together.

My wife's Schwinn is like a good acquaintance. We've hung out a few times, shot the breeze, and what-have-you, but we're not close. I check in from time to time, just to make sure everything is going okay, and we've been known to double-date on small outings. She's nice, and she lets me know if she needs anything, but we're not real tight.

The Runwell, who I'm still getting to know, is like one of those people you meet and they immediately let you in to their confidence.  He's open, honest, and not ashamed of his flaws. He's a pretty simple guy, not overly complicated, and you get the sense that he's a real no-nonsense kind of fellow. But you can also tell that he's really good to his friends, and if you put yourself out there for him, he'll come through in a big way.

I know this is all just a little silly and romantic, but it speaks to the good effects of working on old bikes.  I think what you get out of it is ultimately more than just a nice ride or a new set of mechanical skills; perhaps you also get a better sense of yourself, a deeper sort of patience with others, and a repertoire of experience that you can carry into other aspects of your life.  For all the other benefits of riding old, perhaps these are the most significant.


  1. I hope your romantic picture of working on an old bike holds true for me. I just arranged to buy a rusty 1972 Raleigh Sprite. From my discussion with the seller, it sounds like the rust is a cosmetic issue, but there's a lot of it on the handlebars. Then there's the trick of polishing up the old girl. I've never polished anything, but tea sets and shoes so this will be new and interesting indeed.

  2. I know how you feel about bike 'personalities'. My yellow Raleigh Sports was affable and goofy, we called her "Mama Duck" and she just liked to duck around the city.

    My Dawes reminds me of a horse I used to ride - a big dark horse who was too much for me but I kept trying. The Dawes could do more than I'm asking of it (tootling around the city) so I named him for that big horse, "Cooper".

    My husband's city bike is a Brompton we call "Napoleon". He's small but he can do anything a big bike can (and better!) and he wants everyone to know it.

    My husband's road bike is an 80s era Italian steel bike, siren red. She's old, but still very sexy, so we call her "Sophia" (Loren).

    It goes on and on. The only downside is that, once named, it's really hard to let these friends, I mean bikes, go...

  3. I'm all in favour of calling a bicycles by his/her name as long as it's the correct name.

    Bicycles mey be inscrutable at times but their personalities have a perfectly rational explanation...

    Have you not read Flann O'Brien's "The Third Policeman"? If not, you must! No, really!

    Just don't ride too much on bumpy roads or polish that frame too hard. I would explain further but that would be giving away too much.