Not So Special Anymore

I ride to South Pasadena nearly every Tuesday. My pal Chuck of Vélo Rétro lives there, and we meet at Buster’s, by the Mission Street Gold Line stop, to talk bikes and other pleasant nonsense. Chuck has a number of sweet vintage and not-so-vintage bikes, and also leads a ride of ten or twenty like-minded folks every month that wends around South Pasadena, San Marino, Temple City, El Monte, Arcadia, and Sierra Madre. There, after a nice invigorating climb, we stop for coffee at Beantown and catch our breath—which we then proceed to waste on more talk about bikes and other pleasant nonsense.

It’s a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon, get in some miles, look at pretty and often rare bikes, and chat with friendly, easy-going folks.

These rides also give me an excuse to pass by the mighty Pigeon, which is not so near my home in Mid-Wilshire but which is always a happy stop.

So, I’ve been noticing more and more bikes in South Pasadena lately. The city’s always hosted a number of roadies—so much so that Buster’s has long had a sign prohibiting cleats inside, where they play hell with the floor—but lately the mix has gotten more diverse.

A particularly nice example was this lady in a long red dress who rolled up on a traditional British roadster—the loop-frame version, to allow for dresses, skirts, kilts, or long coats, y’ know:

The bike sported a fancy pannier too, which was burdened with who knows what. (I certainly can’t imagine half the stuff my wife packs in her own bike luggage, which she has quite a collection of.) The Lady in Red did not seem like an “enthusiast” in the current sense, which means obsessive bike freaks like me and Chuck; rather, she seemed to be a regular neighborhood resident who happened to prefer getting about the locality by bike. Exactly the sort of rider we need more of, to help ease our collective self away from slavish obsession with driving everywhere, be it a block away. Possibly a Pigeon customer! For where else in the area can you get a half-century old Sturmey Archer hub adjusted, or find a tire to fit a 28″ wheel? It was gratifying to see her.

Then there was this old thing:

An ancient cruiser, diligently refinished in rust by Father Time himself. In this case, I am slightly acquainted with the owner, who commutes to the Gold Line stop on this superannuated velocipede before taking the train downtown to work. No carbon, no sealed bearings, nothing lightweight—but it gets him around and makes him happy.

I wouldn’t ride it, any more than I’d ride the British roadster, over hill after hill between Buster’s and the Miracle Mile—but then the owners of those two bikes wouldn’t touch my racy little fixed-wheel either.

As it should be. Cycling’s a big tent, with room for nearly all. The one thing that all its practitioners gain from it is real freedom—freedom from the physical constraints of sitting in a car; freedom from the endless parking frenzies that form the basis for so much dinner talk these days; freedom from traffic jams; freedom from that stultification of the mind and body that comes from sitting too long; freedom from oil and its ills. Freedom from the loneliness of that glass-and-steel cell that no amount of pumped-up music can alleviate.

Now everyone is discovering the secret that used to be ours alone. We’re no longer so special, are we?

And isn’t it great!

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  1. Posted July 5, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Gosh, I’ve often thought of hooking up with that vintage steel ride on Sunday mornings. My daily ride is a Trek 760, but my favorite is a circa 1988 Scapin with chrome forks and stays, decorative lugs, cable-hiding top tube, and of course the obligatory Campy dropouts and Nuovo Record gruppo. I should wheel it up there and slum with the folks and show them what a real vintage steel frame looks like!

  2. mike
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    I enjoy reading about others who enjoy cycling as much as I. Never could get comfortable on one of the modern bikes that seem so cramped for my lanky 6’3″ frame – even if a light light bike would make my mountain rides here in Colorado easier. I’ve kept my late 80s Battaglin in near new condition and it weighs in at 20 lbs with new wheels – my nod to modern.

    What drew me to write today was Chuck’s rides that seem to circle my hometown of Monrovia without actually going through it. I didn’t start riding a lot until I moved to Colorado decades ago, but if I retire and return home to Monrovia, you will find me out riding daily. I’m thinking the ride back down from Sierra Madre would be a kick.

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