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Riding down the Withlacoochee on my classic bronze-gold colored bike, life is sunny-golden in Citrus County. The bike looks like it belongs more in a museum than on a bike trail, which would make me more of a docent than a rider, but that’s ok. The serial number reveals this 10-speed Schwinn was built in April 1976, a very long time ago in bike years, back when a Ford occupied the White House. Back then I couldn’t afford a bike like this, but thanks to a motivated seller at a yard sale last year it cost only $50. Many hours of cleaning and a couple hundred dollars later, forty years’ worth of grime and rust are gone. A few parts have been replaced and this former highly-desirable beauty is in good working order, proudly showing off its age. Some people want to save the world. Some rescue dogs or cats. I’m happy just keeping an old bike on the trail and out of the junkyard.
A guy riding a five-figure bike--that’s five figures to the left of the decimal point--said my bike was cool, old school, retro. It’s kind of fun to finally have a cool bike, even if it weighs a ton and it’s forty years too late to be cool. His bike was featherweight. I‘d guess my handlebars alone weigh more than his entire bike. I’d guess all the bikes combined from a Tour de France team are lighter than my bike.
Back in the mid-1970s, we didn’t ride bikes for fun; we rode to get from A to B, usually in conditions that would horrify people today. They horrify me when I think about them, like riding on busy streets at night with no lights or flying down steep roads at top speed. Back then you might fall and crack a few teeth, but now it’s about knee and hip pain. Back then it didn’t occur to us that we might end up in a hospital or morgue. Ah, the wonder of youthful carelessness.
As with many antiques, knowing this bike’s history is unknowable at this point. All the places it’s traveled along four decades, the trips to work, to school, to friends’ houses and to get away, are lost in time. Maybe some intrepid sojourner rode it across the country; maybe it’s been along the Pacific Coast Highway or the Great Lakes. I wish I had asked the guy I bought it from more questions about it. He said he bought it new in 1976. He could have told me a lot. But at the time I was only thinking of whether to buy it and whether it was safe to ride home. I went back a month later to talk to the seller but he was gone and the house was vacant. I recall he had said something about how he was staying at the house temporarily. It’s sort of like family. It’s not until they’re gone that you realize how much you’d like to ask them stuff and listen to them. If only.
So this forty-year old Schwinn becomes a metaphor for life, for listening when you still have the chance. Unlike my old Schwinn, with its replaceable parts (thanks largely to the thrill of finding old parts on eBay), you can’t keep old family members whisking along the trail forever, but you can keep their stories alive.