A remembrance of things present – Part 3

by Steve Brock on September 19, 2012

My rediscovery of the value of my old Motobecane ten-speed bike came in part experientially from my riding in Whistler. But it also came conceptually through reading a book at the same time. In fact, with travel, reading about a place or activity and experiencing it simultaneously adds meaning to both. You have both theory and practice intersecting and informing the other.

Before our trip to Whistler, I had loaded a library book on my Kindle for reasons I still don’t quite understand. It was titled, It’s all about the bike: The pursuit of happiness on two wheels by Rob Penn.

The book chronicles Penn’s journey to build his dream bicycle. He travels the world to select the best components, from the custom-built frame he has designed in the UK to the world-class stem and wheels he finds in the US to the artful handlebar and derailleur he acquires in Italy.

Nice trip.

As he describes his odyssey, he also tells the story of the history of the bicycle. And in so doing, I came to learn several things.

  • The modern-day bike, despite improvements in materials such as titanium and carbon fiber, has not really changed since the first incarnation of the “safety bike” back in the 1890’s. Take a look at a photo from the turn of the last century and you’ll see how remarkably similar bikes are in their geometry and design to today’s bikes.
  • I wasn’t alone in my newly discovered enthrallment with the elemental act of staying upright on two wheels and going at great speed based solely on my own efforts. Others seem to be at a similar loss of words for their delight in such a seemingly simple (though actually quite complex) act. See Bruce’s comment to Part 2 of this series for an example of someone who is able to eloquently explain part of the joy of riding.
  • My new love of mountain biking didn’t replace any desire to ride my old road bike. It enhanced it. I discovered that many others enjoy both forms of riding and have multiple bikes.
  • My initial shock at the price of new bicycles became replaced by an appreciation for what it took to create the various components, many still made by hand. It’s still an expensive hobby if you buy new, but it is one I now understand better. It furthermore made me realize the value I had in my old bike.
  • My old French ten-speed may actually be as good a bike as many of the new modern ones. Good basics never go out of style. We merely change our labels from “old” to “classic.”

So when I returned home, I checked out books from the library on bike repair, picked up a few new tools and supplies, and within a week I had renovated my old Motobecane ten-speed road bike. And that is when I came to my greatest understanding about this whole journey with the bike…

To be continued…

Read Part 1 or Part 2 if you haven’t done so. Or go to Part 4 for the thrilling (well, maybe not thrilling, but at least meaningful) conclusion.

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