Whatever Happened to My Schwinn?
Or: Nine-year-old excitement meets sixty-nine-year-old reality.
Last week, I purchased a brand new bicycle; the first new bicycle I’ve bought in sixty years. Really!
In those long-ago days of my youth, bicycles came in one size (too large), two styles (boys and girls), and two types (regular and "English"). "Regular" bikes (like my Schwinn) had fat balloon tires, swooping handlebars, and a coaster brake (now called a kickback" brake, I’m told). "English" bikes had skinny tires, a three-speed shifter, and unreliable hand brakes. Both types came with fenders. An English bike could be had with a light, driven by a generator that rubbed against a tire and forced you to use low gear.
Regular bikes were for regular kids. We’d put playing cards on the forks, held in with clothespins, to sound like motorcycles. We’d poke long fronds of pampas grass into holes in the handlegrip. We’d leap over curbs. None of these things could, or would, be done on an English bike.
There was no such thing as a manual. You went to the bike store, Dad bought the bike, you hopped on and rode off. If (when) you crashed, you got up, stopped the bleeding, and got back on. Helmet? Someone’s father had one left over from the Army: great for playing war, but not for riding. Water bottle? If you were lucky, you had a Scout canteen, but no good way to carry it.
All the bike’s hardware was American. Metric? What’s that? You could disassemble the bike (and put it back together) with a blade screwdriver and an old pair of pliers.
The bike I just bought, which cost six times the price of my first car, is a "hybrid," meant for "Class 2" riding. This means it’s suitable for pavement and light trail riding, but no jumping. It has a "large" frame (five frame sizes available), straight handlebars, a 21-speed shifter (3X7), and no fenders (sigh).
Like my Toyota, it came with options, ranging from puncture-resistant tubes to various things that could be bolted on (like a water bottle holder). These extras could easily double the cost of the bike. I passed on all but better tubes. God knows how I’d get the bike apart to fix a flat…
Most astounding, my new bike came with a 47-page owners manual. This document consists primarily of small paragraphs, each ending with the dire warning that doing/not doing this or that could cause you to "lose control and fall." Who needs to be told that when you hit something you may fly over the handlebars? Doesn’t every child come to that discovery by him- or herself? That’s why God invented Moms and Band-Aids, for Pete’s sake.
I’m going to have a lot of fun riding my hybrid, but it’s not going to be quite the same as those carefree Schwinnish days of yesteryear. I guess that’s the price of progress. Welcome to the senior years, Al. Don’t lose control and fall. And remember to wear your helmet.