Thursday, February 28, 2013

One Thing Leads to Another - A Bicycle Story

Have you ever tried to save money by doing one thing and end up spending more than you would have if you'd just done what you should have done in the first place? Well that's the story of my life. I always think I can't afford something but I can do something cheaper that will be almost as good. Generally it ends up costing as much or more as what I wanted in the first place.

I've had an off and on history with bicycles since I was a kid. I remember that my oldest brother had a cool bike with a stick shift that we weren't allowed to touch. Don't know if it was a Schwinn Stingray or some other brand, or maybe I imagined the whole thing. I do know that my dad used to buy bicycles at the police auction to fix up. My first memory of actually riding a bike was being pushed down a hill by one of my brothers at the church yard. Kind of like teaching someone to swim by pushing them into the water. I don't remember how that worked out but it must have worked and I didn't have any broken bones. After that, I don't remember riding bikes much until we moved to Pine Valley in 1972. There we had miles of roads with little to no traffic and lots of space to explore. Then one time we were jumping off a homemade ramp and I crashed and hit my head on the pavement (which might explain a lot today). I don't remember riding so much after that. Our friend that lived up the street did the same thing but ended up in the hospital and permanently disabled.

My next memory of bike riding came in 1978 when I got a job at Christmas working at Toys-R-Us selling of all things, bicycles. Seems you didn't need to know anything about them, you just had to be tall enough to get them off the racks. I basically handled anything too big to put on a shelf. I bought a 10 speed bike when I worked there. I rode that bike for a while and at some point my brother John got it and used to ride it to work. One time I asked about the bike and he said that at some point he had gotten a flat tire and chained the bike to something and never went back to get it.

My next bicycle encounter came along in 1994. In 1992 I got an office job and started putting on excess weight from sitting around and all the food available in an office environment at the time, especially all the birthday cakes. The office was in the middle of a wooded park-like property with walking trails and many coworkers would walk on their breaks. I started doing that and would walk the 1-mile route twice a day. That started making a difference and I started dropping pounds. A couple months into it, I started walking around a local lake after work which was an additional 6 miles. Unfortunately I developed a problem with my feet and had to cut back the walking and this is when my next bicycle came into the picture. I checked around and went to a local bicycle shop to look for a mountain/road bike. I wanted something comfortable and versatile. I bought a Specialized Hard Rock that had a special large frame for tall riders. I rode that around the lake every day (except for heavy rain days which there weren't many in that period) for 6 months. I would go around 4 times each day. In the end, I lost 80 pounds in 9 months.

Anyway, life changes and I gradually rode less and less. Still have the office job (less the birthday cake bonanza) and the weight slowly came back on. Every couple years I'd get the old mountain bike out and try to get back to riding. I tried the gym too but not my thing and couldn't stick to it.

I know, I know, get to the point! It's coming, I promise...

So fast forward to now, if you're still actually reading this drivel. For the past 10 years or so I've been camping with my 1947 Ken-Skill teardrop trailer. Mostly at teardrop and vintage trailer rallies. At some of these rallies there would be more bicycles than trailers. I thought about taking my mountain bike but didn't really have a way to haul it with the trailer. Plus people were mostly riding cool beach cruisers. Especially at Pismo and Buellton. The Buellton meet even has a morning pajama ride that looked to be fun. At the last Buellton meet I saw one of the coolest bicycles I'd ever seen. It was a Felt Chief. Red bike with gold lettering and big fat cream colored tires.

When I got home from the campout, I decided I was going to find me a cool cruiser to bring to the next event. First thing I looked for was the Felt Chief. Turns out it was an $500+ bicycle that was no longer in production. Also because of my height it was probably too small. Same problem with vintage cruisers or those sold at local stores. After more searching I found several styles that work for taller riders but most of these bikes were fairly expensive new. One of the ones that I found that was really cool was the Project 346 Basman, but they started at over $1000 and being a Dutch bike, are fairly rare in the U.S. This bike is long and the pedals are further forward than normal. Most bikes have the pedals at the bottom of the seat post. So now that became the dream bike but I had to look for something I could actually afford.

I started looking on Craigslist for used bikes hoping I'd find a cheap Basman. Basically I couldn't find any at all at any price. But in November I did find a bike that might work. This bike is called a Sixthreezero In The Barrel (where do they come up with this stuff?). This bike is like a regular cruiser but with a longer frame and the pedals moved forward about 6 inches. It also had a 3 speed rear axle. I got an OK deal on it but knew I would want to customize it. This is where the concept of buying something cheap to save money falls apart. Bicycles can be money pits just like old cars. I signed up for a forum called Rat Rod Bikes because the members there have so many cool bikes and cool ideas, I figured I could learn something and get some ideas for my own bike. I also joined a second forum called The Scrapers Forum. Soon I had changed the fork, handlebars, tires, seat, handlebars, tires again, added a rear fender and a motorcycle headlight converted to LEDs and some other small stuff. So now I could have bought that Felt Chief  for what I spent after all. Oh well, the bike is fun to ride and I like it.

From Sixthreezero In The Barrel

From Sixthreezero In The Barrel

I kept looking at bikes on Craigslist just in case something interesting came up. One day I found an interesting stretch cruiser at a great price. A stretch cruiser is a different style where the frame is extra long and the lines are exaggerated. The pedals are really far forward so you can sit lower. This one was a 2005 American Flyer Coupe Deluxe and 7 feet long. Wouldn't fit well on my bike rack but I got it home. I actually got it before I finished the first one so it sat around for a while. I figured if I didn't like it I could always resell it. But it turns out it's actually really fun to ride and comfortable. So again I started changing things. I ended up changing the forks (twice), seat, fenders, tires, wheels, tires again, kickstand, chain, handlebars and again added a motorcycle headlight converted to LEDs.

From American Flyer Coupe Deluxe

From American Flyer Coupe Deluxe

Ok, so now I have two nice bikes customized to my taste and still spent less than my dream Basman, but I might have been able to buy something else nice already done. I also now have a supply of extra wheels, tires, handlebars, seats and other stuff. Oh, and a cheap Huffy bike I bought to get the wheels for the American Flyer. Oops I forgot the new bike rack I had to buy because the stretch wouldn't fit on my old one. I think I stopped counting. I need to sell the Huffy and some of the extra parts so maybe I'll get a few bucks back. At least I'm now ready to go cruising at the next trailer meet and also have been riding around the neighborhood as well as down at the beach. So you think I'd be all set and no longer need to look at bikes for sale, right? Well...

Every time I'd see someone on the forum post a picture of a Basman or I'd look at the collection of pictures of them that I saved off the net, I'd get the itch to look for one again. There has been one for sale in L.A. for a long time but it was the shorter model they made and I really wanted the longer one. Last Friday I was on the bike forum during my lunch break and plugged in my usual Craigslist Basman search. The L.A. one came up again but there was a new add for one in Orange County. The ad was confusing because the description said they had the short model but they had pictures of both styles. And they had a great price listed. So I sent them an e-mail and found out it was bicycle shop selling it. She sent me pictures of the actual bike and it turns out it was the long model afterall.

Now I'm thinking I shouldn't be spending money on another bike since I already have two but I started thinking that if I got it and didn't like it, I could at least get my money back out of it. After a couple phone calls the deal was done and the bike was mine. Just had to drive 100 miles the next day to pick it up.

From Project 346 Basman

I picked it up on Saturday and on the way home stopped in Oceanside for a ride along the beach (picture above). Then headed south for home and stopped at my normal riding spot at the Mission Beach boardwalk in San Diego. Great riding bike and hopefully I won't go crazy customizing it. Not going to change much but I will be adding a motorcycle headlight to it before too long. And I need to decide if (and where) I'm going to keep 3 bikes. They're in the living room now. The mountain bike is hanging in the garage. Also need to decide which bike to take to which campout. I can probably only take one even though I have the van now. Oh and I need to find some funny pajamas for the pajama ride in September.

If you read all of this, I congratulate you on having so much free time available.

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