Our social culture romanticizes antiquity. Generationally, we have all embraced a love for a time come and gone, finding a real interest in nostalgia, though only in the most idyllic ways. We pick and choose the rosey bits that make us swoon and yearn for “a simpler time”. Call the movement “Hipster”, but giving it a name isn’t really relevant, because this social trend is not new, and it just picks up the pieces from eras relegated to the history books. In rare instances, bringing back the old isn’t such a bad idea though: Old film cameras are always a treasure; vintage cars draw the eyes of passers by; my favorite is vintage bikes, and not because it is “trendy”, I actually enjoy what they offer in their existence.
A knowledgeable bike enthusiast will suddenly stop and excitedly point to a bike rack, everyone else will just see beater bikes neglected and left to time. But, upon closer inspection, in that rack there is an old Schwinn cruiser, a once-beautiful Peugeot, and a nameless steel lugged piece of art gone the way of the thrifty commuter. I see these bikes all around town here in Burlington, and it is the same in cities and college campuses everywhere. These antiques bought off a friend, Craig’s List, or found in forgotten shed, can be brought up to rideable condition and will continue to be for countless years.
With care and maintenance, the bicycle from years ago will ride well into the future and far beyond where the eye can see. Their construction came from a time where the mindset was, “Built to last”. In “those days”, there was no concept of planned obsolescence, no “Race only” builds, just two triangles and wheels designed to get one from point A to point B and back, again and again. To me, this is special. The idea that a product is built to last a lifetime, and then another, because it is both a tool and a toy, is beautiful. Now, in a world where everything needs to be as new as possible and only last the duration until the next new item comes about, the old steady steeds continue to plug along like diesel engines of the bike world.
This summer, I finally took my interest to ground and started to buy up old bikes for cheap. I wanted to see these relics, lost to attics and garages, brought back to the streets, renewed and ready to continue the journey to wherever the rider desires. I knew the task of sanding rusted parts, oiling seized chains, and tracking down odd-sized tires was going to be a pain, but it is a labor of love to me. To be able to bring a bike back from the brink, and see if put to use again is like releasing a wild animal back into its natural habitat. I feel invigorated, a great sense of accomplishment, and I feel good for providing a service others benefit from. I sell the bikes for low prices, and get college kids going places faster and smiling because they now have a unique bike with character.
One of my online hunts lead me to a Schwinn Speedster, an old 3-speed town bike in green. For the cost of $100, plus $40 for a new tire, tube, and brake cable/housing, this wicked ride was back in action. I have decided to keep it for myself this time. I couldn’t be more pleased; It creaks, it isn’t perfect, and it is slightly uncomfortable. It is my imperfect but trusty ride, ready to go get groceries or cruise the bike path, which I did today. As we zipped north along Lake Champlain on such a gorgeous Autumn afternoon, I pondered the return on investment of this project. Frankly, I don’t think there is a real measure for the return I received. With the sun lazily drifting through the tree canopy, the staccato of the trunks flashing by, and the gleam of the lake, this Schwinn and I clanked, hummed, and creaked a very happy and relaxing couple of miles to shed the stress of life.
This same experience could have been had on a bike from a department store or aboard a multi-thousand dollar piece of engineering. Instead the participants were a tired twenty-something and a rejuvenated 1973 Schwinn Speedster. The simplicity of the adventure on a quiet afternoon reminded me why the bicycle is such a special part of my life: No matter what is happening in my day, regardless of the weather, when I climb into the saddle and set off, I am in my “happy place”. Riding is my escape, and to be able to do it wherever and whenever is magical. To provide someone else with an enjoyable escape or an affordable means of transportation, far outweighs the actual or personal cost of the process. Finding old bikes, getting them out into the world and under happy faces is what makes it all worth it for me. A Classic with refreshed life is able to give the rider that same feeling.