Remember being *really* excited about your first nice bike?

We’ve been visited a few times by this young man who’s got his eyes set on a Trek road bike, SLX I think. Pretty sure he’s brought in his parents and maybe Grandma or a caretaker or maybe all of the above; I think he wants everyone in his life to know how cool that bike would be for him. He’s been so bitten by the cycling bug that he reads and perhaps even relates to some of the writings of my almost-daily-diary.

When I was in his shoes, let’s see… hmm… OK, I was 10 or 11 at the time when I fell in love with the idea of a road bike. That would be… oh my… 43, almost 44 years ago! I’d saved up money from my paper route to buy an “Orly Tour de France” for $49 from Macys. I’d love to see the ad that enticed me to buy that bike, but truthfully, I don’t recall. I just remember that there was no way I could afford a Schwinn Varsity (the bike that Captain Kangaroo said I should have) (back when a Schwinn was a bike worth having) because they were $73 at the time, and this “Orly Tour de France” was just $49. So I bought it with the paper route money and, a year later, had enough to buy the Schwinn Varsity (not realizing until almost three years later that the Orly was a far better bike!).

That’s me, at the right, in my first race on my Gitane Tour de France. Cutoffs, leather helmet, t-shirt, nobody will deny the humble beginnings of my bike racing days!

That young man who’s been coming into the shop is at my “Orly” stage right now. Actually, he’s almost gone past that, because I didn’t really feel the way he does about a new bike until it was time for my first “real” racing bike, a Gitane Tour de France. For that bike, I had to gain support from my parents, since it was an outrageous (for then) $236. My technique was masterful; I convinced my father that the bike I was lusting after was the Gitane “InterClub” model, about $140 (still a lot of money for 1970 or ’71). And once I convinced him of the reasonableness of that bike, I then moved things up to the bike I actually planned to get. There was simply no way I was going to convince my father of the wisdom of a 15 year old buying a bike that cost the equivalent of maybe $1500-$2000 today in one swift motion. Yes, even though it was entirely my own money, it was still important, and perhaps required, that I have his approval for the purchase.

Maybe the young man I’m talking about (the one wanting the SLX, not me!) looks at that bike and sees the future. A machine capable of altering his space-time continuum by giving him a bit of independence and control over his surroundings, and multiplying his own physical capabilities. A discovery that real life adventures can be far more intense and satisfying than what you get with a computer game’s faux realism.

As we get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to find such long-lasting excitement in such simple things. We have our desires, sometimes our impossible (or unwise!)-to-attain fantasies, but once we get them, much if not all of the thrill is gone. But this young man has reminded me of the magically-transformative and lasting powers of the bicycle. There is no question that my cycling has helped me get through life more successfully, falling to fewer temptations, and healthier than I otherwise would have been. It’s been that solid foundation that I can depend upon, no matter what. Marriages have fallen, nations have crumbled, brilliant minds lost because someone didn’t have… a bicycle? Maybe that’s a bit (bit?) over-the-top, but only a bit.

Now you see why I’m in this business. Why I really couldn’t be doing anything else and feel like I was doing what I was meant to do. –Mike–

(Interesting that two of the most-significant bikes in my early life were both “Tour de France” models. And now, decades later, I’ve made a literal ritual out of visiting the Tour de France bike race, year after year (10 of the past 11?). The strange thing about this is that I didn’t have even a passing interest in the actual race back then. Even when I wrote about bike racing for the magazine Competitive Cycling, my interest was at best national, and primarily regional. But now, the trips to the Tour de France have come to be something I look forward to, my alternate universe in which bikes rule the world (once you get away from those pesky Gendarmes anyway!) and almost a second home, another place in the world I can feel comfortable in.)

7 thoughts on “Remember being *really* excited about your first nice bike?

  1. Was also really excited about my first new bike at around 8 years old, a black Schwinn “racer” 3 speed which I actually did crash in a race while being pushed into a parked trailer. In junior high I got all wound up over a new Schwinn Continental (basically a Varsity with gum sidewalls and chrome tipped fork) that I kept like new.

    Ironically, I bought a used Orly 10 speed in college which as you say was a whole step up, lighter and quicker like a base Peugeot or Gitane, the most popular French bikes then. I actually visited Gitane & Peugeot in Paris in an attempt to import them, but they already had their American distributors in place so went through one of them…should have approached Orly instead! Did buy a base Peugeot which I rode through Paris on to Orly Airport of all things though.. Later picked up the pace stateside with a Peugeot PX10 and a Gitane Tour de France, both 21 ponders with sew up tires and a Gitane track bike which I favored around campus, decades before similar Fixies were even heard of. Still have the Gitanes…are they worth much now? Never saw a new Orly stateside or would have bought one, particularly for only $49! Did they make anything comparable to a Gitane Tour de France?

    Still ride some in my 60’s, but not the joy it once was for some reason, probably due to lack of having it built into my routine and necessity of college transportation. Wish I could get it back though as it certainly can be a life changing endeavor. Have some balloon tired bikes to ride on the beach nearby, but road and track bikes are the real thrill! Congrats on your turning it into a lifetime occupation!

  2. I had a beautiful blue Orly Tour de France when I was around 14 years old. I rode that bike everywhere and made the mistake of taking it to college with me. It was stolen in no time flat. About 20 years ago my brother located a white Tour de France and he and my mom put it in the shop for some restoration and gave it to me for my birthday that year. I still have it but this 59 year old body of mine seems to have forgotten most of what it used to know…….the days of riding no hands with an ice cold Pepsi-Cola (glass bottles only back then) are long gone! That seat is a bit of a problem too but I just can’t bring myself to ruin the sleek look of the bike with a grandpa seat!

  3. I still own the first bikes that brought the true magic of cycling to me, a chrome 1970 Cinelli, made by Cino himself, and a Gitane track standard fixed gear, modified with a front brake. I tried to sell the Cinelli recently when I did a major move and downsizing, but discovered it was worth mostly sentimental value, so kept it. At age 64, with a recently fused ankle, I am still enjoying road biking on a mediocre Novara road bike, and “gentle” mountain biking on a nice but outdated Ellsworth. The magic is still there…

  4. I’m moved to write this because I just bought a new bike at Chain Reaction. It’s part of a history: My rides to school were on a 3-speed Raleigh, which I loved. (I had to stand on a stool to hike myself onto it when I was about age six, much like a penny-farthing.)

    But my first “fancy” bike, was acquired after years of steel 12-speeds of no particular pedigree. It was bought as solace when my father died–a Cannondale 900, maybe 19 pounds of unpainted delight. It was built of polished aluminum, with weld points smooth and shiny. Its overall effect was a look like an early DC-3. With some riding I found that the cool, black front fork, a “Sub One” aluminum piece, torqued in a hard turn like two pipe cleaners. Thus, the Cannondale handled terribly and gave me some real gravel-in-the-skin surprises. But boy was it fun climbing and accelerating. I had it for many years of happy riding.

    1. Thankfully things have improved a bit since that first “fancy” bike you acquired. Good thing, that, since we, or most of “we” anyway, seem to need something extra just to finish a climb on the same day as the younger folk do. The tough part is finding a way to accept gradually getting slower as a good thing. If you’ve found that secret, please let me know. 🙂 –Mike

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