Saying I needed an alternative bicycle to keep my road-riding exercise regime going was like saying dawn followed darkness – it was obvious.
My Paramount, which was a then-hefty 750 dollars when I proudly purchased it twenty-four years ago, had seen its better days. I foolishly added duct tape to the top bar to hold a can of mace for a particularly vicious dog on one of my frequent routes. I’m a sweater, and the tape held my salt water and corroded the bottom of the steel bar, causing a crack.
I took the bike to my favorite local welder, Joe McGrath, to see about reinforcing the bar. Because a brake-line ran along the inside of it, I then took it to my trusted bike shop operator, Rich Harper, for a consult. Rich has owned John’s Cyclery since well-before I’d bought the Paramount from him. He pointed out that there was also an impact-bend in the lower, angled bar, which was probably throwing all the proportions of ingenuity off. I admitted that when I made a slow, 360-degree turn, the front wheel and my locked-in shoe touched, but I’d rationalized that the reason was because of my bigger shoes which housed my bigger feet, reminding me of Kevin Kline’s line in “The Big Chill,” “Your feet get bigger as you get older.” And Jeff Goldblum’s response, “I wish everything did.”
Rich deemed the bike unsafe.
“Rich, I just want to get through the fall with this bike,” I pleaded. I’m known at his shop to be one to try and stretch a penny, just as my friends and family know I tend to use items until they die of natural causes, i.e., picture me dodging hot charcoal falling out of the bottom of my last grill, which I almost took to Joe McGrath as well for mending.
“I’m going to save and buy a new bike next spring,” I went on. “Or – I’ve got my eye on a couple of used ones.”
Pleasant as always, Rich smiled, and told me he’d true-up the front wheel and that I should come back that afternoon.
So I departed, with a great many errands to run for our St. Albans High School Hall of Fame induction dinner the following evening. As I drove I thought about how I love to ride. At 52, I have two replaced knees and I get excited about being out climbing hills and feeling my ability to do it improve through the spring and summer and into the fall. I take no meds, and, I believe, the bike is a big reason why. I’m also a stay-at-home dad with three active kids, and unless a Hollywood producer secures the rights to my first novel The Long Shadow Of Hope, purchasing a bicycle would be WAY DOWN the family priority list, though I’m sure we would find a way to do it eventually.
When I returned to the bike shop the first thing I saw was my friend, “Ol’ Blue,” my sadly plain, navy blue bike. “Sadly plain” because when I had it repainted about halfway through its life, I didn’t spring for new decals.
Rich saw me come in and walked into an adjacent room. When he came back, smoothly rolling beside him was a Greg LeMond road bike, a few touchups to the paint the only evidence that it wasn’t new. It was more than nice. He stopped it in front of me.
“It’s yours,” he said.
Rich explained to me that it had been given to him by a man who had bought the bike to ride with his sons, and now that they’d grown up and moved out, the bike had just been sitting in his garage.
“His only request was that I give it to someone who would ride it, and I know that you will,” Rich said. “It’s just been sitting in my warehouse.”
I stood staring at the bike like a child, trying to find something to say while I fought back tears. Along with a half dozen “I can’ts” and twice as many “thank yous,” I told him I was humbled by his generosity.
It’s been nearly a month, 250 miles logged, and I still can’t tell the story to those I know will appreciate it without my voice breaking and cracking. It wasn’t life or death, donating a kidney, or saving a homeless man, but to me it was an act of immeasurable kindness.
I gave Rich a signed copy of my book, and a gift card for dinner for two at Angela’s On The River at the historic Chilton House, my favorite restaurant in our little town. But I can never repay him fully.
I will have to instead pay it forward. I will begin with the Bike MS: Country Roads Rides 2016. On Saturday, August 27, I will ride 45 miles in memory of Lori Koehn Pinson, and for friend Mike Tinsley, husband of my cousin Kelly Johnson Tinsley, and Steve Kerrigan of Bridgeport. If anyone would like to donate – a quarter a mile would be $11.25, 50 cents would be $22.50 – contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or click on my facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/andy.spradling and make a donation online (till the end of September). Thanks so much!
My wife, Myssy, captured the cool top photo.