The Ecphorizer

Ten-Speed Fever
Bill Harvey

Issue #62 (January 1987)

I used to live in Costa Mesa, and there had a good friend and neighbor who was a flight engineer for a commercial airline. I don't know if you are aware of it or not, but the commercial airlines are deeply interested in the health of their flight crews. These companies make it a rule to encourage the flight crews to maintain good health. There are frequent physical exams, and such things as smoking and drinking to excess are enthusiastically discouraged. My friend loves to fly, and accordingly, complies with company wishes with regard to his well-being.

It came to pass that he decided that he wasn't getting enough exercise. He went out and bought a ten-speed bicycle. I'd see him leave in the morning, all decked out in his bike-riding clothes, and when he returned, he was filled with tales of wondrous things that he'd seen on his ride. He'd ride the bike trails, down by the Santa Ana river, all of the way to the beach and back. He appeared to be in marvelous condition, and he absolutely radiated good health. If he was an example of a member of a flight crew, I wanted to fly in his airplane.

Of course there was much more to his good health than the ten-speed. He also ate alfalfa sprouts and wheat germ. He ate raw peanuts, unsalted of course, and desiccated liver. He also was a devotee of brewer's yeast. That is, he did all those things in his house. Occasionally, he'd make excursions to my house, wherein he'd eat up all of my Twinkies. Also my Ding Dongs, potato chips and pretzels. But that's another story.

Back to the bicycle. I'd watch him pedal off, and my mind would wander back to the days of my youth, when I rode my bicycle for mile after joyful mile after adventurous mile. Of course, I didn't have a ten- speed. In those days, ten-speeds were known as English Racers, and were few and far between. I had a great, huge monster of a bike, the Cadillac of the bicycle world as it were. It had huge balloon tires and a spring on the front fork. It also had a double head light, as well as a tail light and a horn, all battery operated. Eveready loved me. It also had a false gas tank, and a luggage carrier on the back. All it needed was a chauffeur.

A "wheelie" as the kids do now, was a total impossibility with this bike, although perhaps with a rocket assist... It had the old type of brakes that only require you to push backwards on the pedals in order to stop. I'll never forget the time I was coming down a mile-long hill when my chain jumped off the sprocket. I wore the soles completely off of my shoes getting stopped.

Anyway despite my better judgment, I got caught up in my neighbor's enthusiasm, and decided to buy a ten-speed. I figured I could ride with the wind in what remained of my hair just like he did, and the exercise wouldn't hurt. At least, not much.

At this point in my life, I learned the true meaning of three seemingly innocent, but actually terrifying, words: "some assembly required." After I had an incredible variety of bicycle parts scattered all over my living room, I decided to take a look at the instructions. Then, I decided that it was time to take that course in blueprint reading that I'd been promising to myself. I acquired a quantity and variety of tools that would have made McDonnel-Douglas sick with envy. I consulted several engineering firms. Several days later, I proudly wheeled my bike out of the front door.

I was off and running. My neighbor was proud of me. It was only after I rode the thing for the first time that I made the discovery that certain parts of the bike didn't mate with certain parts of my anatomy. I made the best of it.

Several of my neighbors encouraged me, I'm sure mostly for my entertainment value, as I huffed and puffed down the street. Far from having wind blown hair, what I ended up with was sore muscles and a definite inability to sit comfortably.

In spite of all this, I don't regret the purchase of my bike one bit. I still have the bike, and it's become, actually, quite unique.

After all, how many other ten-speeds can there be that are twelve years old, and have less than four miles on them? 

Bicyclist BILL HARVEY has enlivened these pages for several years now with his essays. You can also get them in concentrated form by purchasing one of his books.

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