April 14, 2007


My first bike was red and had a coaster brake. Dad got it for me from the Coast-To-Coast store one grey windy spring day. It said 'Stage Coach' on the chain guard. A little later I started to make it my own bike. First little things like mounting playing cards across the spokes with clothes pins, but then later I put on big handlebars and a banana seat with sissy bar. I wore the nuts on that bike round with a crescent wrench.

Once one of my brothers got a bike from the police auction. It made a big impression on me. My brother could do really cool things like put on a chain. He painted it black, it had no chain guard or fenders, and it was fast.

Later I moved up to a ten speed, an Itoh, also bought at the Coast-To-Coast. I mowed my parents' lawn for two summers to pay off that bike, and I had it for years-- through Jr. High and High School. I painted part of it John Deere Green one summer and rode around on a two-tone bike. Rode that bike on a few 50 km MS Bike-A-Thons. I rode it in college, and then took it out to Los Angeles with me to graduate school. I had it in the car on the drive out of MN, through SD, Montana, over the mountains and down the central valley to Pasadena, and after a month it was stolen. The cable was cut in broad daylight, and some white security guys told me they had seen some hispanics driving around in a pick-up. I kept looking for that John Deere Green lug frame for years, and went through several other bikes, one a nice Trek mountain bike, another a ten-speed racer with suicidally narrow tires. That bike had been abandoned in the storage room of our apartment building and I broke the Kryptonite lock using liquid nitrogen and a screwdriver in the lab, (my thesis advisor walked into the lab, declared 'I don't want to know!', and walked out again), fixed it up, made it my own. Had some good times riding the Trek in the San Gabriel Mountains. That bike got stolen during the night of the Northridge earthquake of 1994. I hadn't been so smart because I had locked the bike to a sturdy bush behind the apartment building. Somebody cut the bush with a dull knife and took my bike. They didn't get away clean though. There was blood on the cut branch, and bloody crumpled newspaper lying on the asphalt. The police showed up and took a report, but weren't interested in the DNA evidence.

After that I decided that I wasn't going to be a victim again and I started riding stealth bikes-- bikes that are in perfect mechanical condition but look like hell. That strategy has served me well-- in LA, in Copenhagen, in Sweden. The idea is that if you're going to go to the work of stealing a bike, you're going to take a good looking bike and skip over the beater with low resale value. Sometimes all it takes is an old seat and a rusty bell. I bought a new commuting bike in Copenhagen in 1998 and painted over the frame with porous grey primer. That bike avoided being stolen for several years, locked up by the harbor, not the best part of town.

When it got stolen I started riding an old Estonian bicycle I found in the basement of the electron storage ring. That bike was an adventure-- lots of flex in the frame (both twist and bow), narrow handlebars just in front of the knees, pedals tilting, no brakes. Somebody stole it-- served them right.


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