Life cycle

Mario Bartel storyteller blog cyclist photographer communicator
A Chopper bike from Canadian Tire that looked a lot like this one, was my first memorable ride.

Cyclists can  define the stages of their lives by their bikes.

The first significant bike I remember was an orange Chopper-style bike from Canadian Tire that arrived under the Christmas tree when I was 7 or 8 years-old. It was a sweet, tricked out ride, with an elongated black seat supported by a low-rise “sissy bar,” a three-speed “stick” shifter mounted on the wide top tube and, of course, the obligatory hi-rise handlebars which I occasionally adorned with streamers. It was a bad-ass ride; apparently I liked to channel my inner Easy Rider when I was a kid.

When I outgrew that, I convinced my parents to spend $89 on a Shields road bike from the Consumers Distributing catalogue store with proper curved handlebars and a four-speed internal hub gear system. It weighed a ton; I think the tubes were cast from iron. But it took me on adventures to distant parks, gave me my first taste of freedom on the road.

In high school, I started to get more serious about my cycling endeavours. I saved my allowance money and eventually accumulated enough to purchase a real Peugeot road bike from a real bike shop. The grey steel frame was accented with chromed forks. The downtube shifters connected to a bonafide 10-speed derailleur. It weighed about a third of the clunky Shields, but it was no thoroughbred by any means.

When I caught the occasional glimpse of the Tour de France highlights on TV, hosted by John Tesh, I cheered for the riders on Peugeots.

I rode far, and tried to go fast on that bike.

In university I kicked my bike game up another notch.

A chance visit to a local Italian bike shop to kill time while getting new tires put on my dad’s car introduced me to a beautiful Rossi stallion. It’s chromed Columbus Aelle tubing glinted in the sunlight. The Campagnolo Nuovo Record group sounded exotic, but was renowned for its simplicity and durability. The Mavic wheelset gave it racing cred, although I had no intentions of testing my legs in that way.

The $900 price tag was a major kick to my meager student finances; but I was in love. The next Saturday, she was mine.

Astride the Rossi, I was a “serious” cyclist. She took me on epic 100 km rides. She carried me on cycling dates. I upgraded parts, affixed a fancy set of red Look clipless pedals.
She was my ride and joy for about 10 years, although I hung onto her long after she was retired. Her lithe silhouette had a place of honour in my bachelor apartment, a piece of gleaming chromed kinetic sculpture leaned against a living room wall.

When I moved west, the Rossi and my Kona mountain bike mounted on the Thule roof rack upon my red Toyota Tercel, I rewarded my assurance of a new job by heading to the nearest high-end bike shop. I picked out a sweet Cramerotti frame with a red, white and blue fade paint job on the Columbus SLX tubes and, of course, chromed stays and fork. I cherry-picked the groupset, brakes and wheelset to build her up. She was practically a custom bike, my dream machine.

The Cramerotti carried me up and down the local mountains with ease. She took me out to the countryside and navigated busy city streets. And when I signed on for a cycling tour to accompany the 2003 Tour de France, she was to transport me through the streets of Paris, up the legendary Pyreénean climbs of Col d’Aspin and Luz Ardiden.

That was the plan, at least; until a fateful detour after a visit to the bike shop to get her pedals removed in preparation for packing her into a travel box took me under an overhang that was too low for the Cramerotti mounted on the roof rack of my car. The thud was sickening, the damage heartbreaking. And terminal. My flight departed in 36 hours!

A panicked visit to the bike shop set me up with a Specialized Allez Comp. Not my first choice, especially the wild and crazy zebra-stripe livery; but it fit, and the shop could have it set up for me by the end of the day.

The Allez performed admirably in France, turned heads even. My attachment to her stiff, responsive ride and assured ascending grew. But ours was an ill-fated relationship; a week after returning from France I was hit by a car turning left and the bike was bent out of alignment.

Insurance set me up with my next ride, a bright orange and blue Orbea.

I was enamoured with the Spanish brand after watching their bikes perform for the small Basque team, Euskaltel-Euskadi. They were a plucky bunch, scrapping their way up mountainsides amongst the best climbers, then faltering miserably against the time trialing machines like US Postal and ONCE. They were a regional outfit playing in the same sandbox as multinational big boys. And Orbea is a co-op, where the workers each own an equal share in their employer.

The Orbea’s bright colours caught admiring glances, her unusual brand sparked conversations. Her light aluminum frame climbed like a demon and she descended on a rail.

Orbea and I spent more than 32,000 kms together. I knew her every quirk, her every squeak and squeal. She carried me to my wedding. She was my ride of choice on my first Gran Fondo.

She would have been my forever bike, until my heart was stolen by a sassy French Lapierre.

Each of my bikes (well, I’m not so sure about the clunky Shields department store bike), or at least parts of them, went on to another life. The Cramerotti’s pedals were ported over to the Specialized. When it’s short life ended, it’s components were installed on the Orbea, which is still being ridden by a friend.
The beloved Rossi, after years of collecting dust interrupted by occasional service as a winter trainer bike, became a throw-in when I sold an old mountain bike to another buddy; it sparked another’s love for the road.

The chainring of life…

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