A couple Saturdays ago, I got this e-mail from my friend Lee:
Would you or anybody else you know be interested in this classic Trek 820 that Kerry rescued from a dumpster? It is in good shape and mechanically looks and feels sound. Seat tube is 56 cm. Seven speed triple. The pedals are mine. Free to a good home. I want my garage back.
I grabbed two beers out of my fridge to make a down payment on a new-to-me bicycle (total cost: four beers), drove to Lee’s house, picked it up, and a few hours later, cruised it over to a friend’s house for dinner. Lee had put on new rear brake pads, and the frame has a bunch of dings and scrapes, and the headset was a little loose, but overall, it rides wonderfully. If Lee and I weren’t such good friends, I might have even given him up to $150 for it. From what I can tell via some Internet research, it’s a 1994.
I have not ridden very many new bikes in my life, but I have ridden plenty of old bikes. And this one, well, it’s another one of those. A purple one. I believe it retailed for about $300 when I was a freshman in high school, and there’s something very satisfying in riding a two-decades-old bike that still works just fine. Especially one your friend’s wife found in a dumpster and you bought for four beers.
We’ve made a billion technological advances to bikes in the past 125 years, making them way lighter, way faster, and more expensive than a year’s tuition at a public university. All that stuff is cool, but sometimes we forget that whether it’s a carbon/titanium sculpture we can lift with our pinky or a clunky pile of cheap steel we could use for CrossFit workouts, the bicycle is still the most efficient human-powered transportation ever created. And pretty goddamn fun to ride over to the ice cream shop on a summer evening.
As far as the joy of riding to the ice cream shop goes, all those technological advances of the past, say, 30 years don’t make much of a difference when you’re not trying to be king of the mountain. Now, there is nothing wrong with riding a nice bicycle. But if you can’t enjoy riding a crappy bike, I would go as far as to say that maybe you don’t like bikes.
Crappy old bikes are everywhere—pawn shops, thrift stores, garage sales, dumpsters, Craigslist—and many are in better condition than cars built in the same year. Here’s a secret: Many people buy bikes and never ride them more than a handful of times, and 15 or 20 years after the price tags were removed, those bikes are sitting in someone’s garage under a layer of dust. Sometimes all they need is a new chain and a basic tune up and they’re ready to roll. Sometimes they need a new front wheel because Junior plowed the family SUV into the trash can and pinned the bike behind it on his first time backing out of the garage, but wheels aren’t hard to come by. Sometimes the only thing worth saving is the frame, and you can learn almost everything you need to know about bikes spending a handful of nights swapping out the parts for new ones.
Money can buy a lot of things, but there are a lot of things you don’t need much of it to buy—including an old bike with a story.