Saturday, December 7, 2013

Cycling with Kris

The snow was piled three feet high on both sides of the road that led from Bugstussle’s General Store back to Sidney’s and  Kris’ workshop – a five-mile journey that predominately followed the banks of Clement Moore Creek – a creek which was predominately covered with a good fifteen-or-so inches of ice this time of year. Neither the snow, nor the ice, nor the time of year did little to stop Sidney and Kris from their daily ritual of racing their bicycles into town for supplies and then back to the shop. Even on those days when they didn’t really need any supplies, they would make up some story to tell their wives that would allow them to escape and to let off a little steam, enjoy some fresh air and, for just those few moments, set their normal work obligations aside.

Sidney Carpenter was employed at the Kris Kringle Christmas Workshop just outside the city limits of North Pole. Coincidental to his surname, he was the Chief Carpenter – and partner, albeit only a forty percent partner. The sixty percent portion belonged to Kris – only because it was mostly his inheritance that provided the investment capital that purchased the land and the building that was now the hustle-bustling industry that manufactured toys for children around the world. But aside from the offset percentage of the business, Sidney and Kris were equals in every other respect. They were born just a few hours apart at the same hospital in the center of North Pole; had the same teachers from Kindergarten through 12th grade (okay – mainly because there was only one teacher in North Pole for about forty years in a row!); took the same mail order college courses majoring in business administration; and, of course, grew up together riding their bicycles in the snow and along the frozen banks of the Clement Moore Creek. It was only fitting that on that Wednesday afternoon back on the 17th of February in 1802, sitting at the lunch counter of ol’ man Dicken’s Drugstore, those same two young lads, with their brand-spanking-new college degrees and with pencils and a stack of napkins in hand, sketched out an entire business plan for a factory that manufactured  toys year-round and then devised an amazing shipping program that would distribute the entire lot to children around the world – during one single evening. It was an undertaking that no one had ever tackled before.

Ever since Sidney could remember, he had a knack for building things. No scrap of wood was ever wasted around him – it was easily transformed into a toy or some useful object. Because of this knack, he was the obvious choice for the position of Chief Carpenter. Kris was the one that had always been good at numbers and organization, so figuring out how much of what to build and who gets what and where it all goes was left up to him. Manpower around North Pole wasn’t an issue – not since the short-lived Ice Factory closed down. We won’t need to go into a lot of detail about that ill-fated venture other than to say that the guys that sketched THAT idea out on napkins had some pretty bad lettering skills and all of their 9’s looked like 4’s and their 8’s were sloppy and easily mistaken for 3’s. So as it turned out, when they had their factory built, all of the ceilings were hideously low which forced them to advertise for workers of a slightly smaller stature than the average North Pole resident. Fortunately these working conditions were ideal for Elves worldwide who felt lost inside average-sized structures and they migrated by the trainload to North Pole. Unfortunately they were all unemployed and drawing welfare within a year after relocating. Fortunately Sidney and Kris were up and running strong by the summer of 1803 and the Elves were all gainfully employed and once again singing-while-they-worked twenty hours a day building toy after toy after toy and preparing for a Christmas Eve delivery.

But the real genius behind Kris’ and Sidney’s operation was in the Shipping and Distribution Department. Both had been avid cyclists since they were in their elementary years of school and they were both on the cyclo-cross and mountain bike race teams in high school. Because of this, they easily recognized the reliability and efficiency of the human-powered two-wheeled machine. Realizing that they would be required to make thousands of deliveries over the course of one night, speed was obviously going to be crucial. Since there had also been several non-Elves laid off by the Ice Factory, they were hired and trained to race bicycles. Sidney devised a gearing system to drastically increase the speed of their race bikes as well as a harness which would link twenty of them together. With twenty super-fit cyclists pulling a sleigh full of toys, there should be no problem making all of the deliveries in one single night.

And for twenty-two years, there wasn’t.

Friday – December 23, 1825 – 6:24 pm – a cold, bleak, biting Eve of Christmas Eve (In other words, to get back to the beginning of our story…)

Sidney and Kris rounded the last curve alongside Clement Moore Creek – Kris riding low on the inside to get the edge on Sidney and sprint ahead just in time to make the left turn at the entrance to the factory. As they raced up the drive and towards the Sleigh House, they saw Clyde Cratchit standing at the opened door – a bewildered look on his face and a limp bicycle tube in his hands.

“Couple a-the derndest things I ever seed,” drawled Clyde as Sidney and Kris rolled on in through the doors.

“What happened?” asked Kris.

“Busted valve stem. Snapped right plum off at the base,” replied Clyde.

As Sidney walked over to the supply cabinet at the back of the Sleigh House he said, “That happens now and again Clyde. No big deal – I’ll just grab a spare tube.”

“Well now, Mister Sidney, that there’s one a-them derndest things I was a-referrin’ to. Ain’t jest this one tube with the busted valve stem. Outta the forty wheels on the drive bikes, twenty-nine a-thems got busted valve stems. Snapped right plum off at the base.”

HEY! There aren’t any spare tubes in the cabinet!”

“That there’d be the other derndest thing I was a-referrin’ to Mister Sidney.”

Now, changing 29 tubes in less than a day wouldn’t necessarily be labeled as an impossible task in any way, shape or form. It would definitely help the situation though if there were at least some spare tubes in the supply cabinet. Chalk that up to some sort of a major glitch in the min-max levels of their inventory program. The real kicker in this situation: Vic, the owner of the North Pole Bike Shop closed at noon earlier in the day so he could catch the two o’clock train out of town – spending the holidays with his daughter and grandkids down in Tacoma. Things were looking a fairly deep, dark shade of gloomy.


Several hours later, Sidney and Kris were sitting at the kitchen table – pencils in hand and with a stack of napkins. Trying their best to come up with a plan – but nothing. Earlier, Mrs. Kringle had cooked a couple of TV dinners and had prepared a huge pot of coffee. She knew that the guys were in for a long, long night of brainstorming.

“Anything yet?” questioned Kris.

“Still a blank,” responded Sidney – elbows on the table with his arms supporting his head – eyes and forehead sunk deep into the palm of his hands.

Looking at the clock on the wall, Kris wearily announced, “Man, it’s nearly five AM. I’ve got to get some sleep. I’m supposed to hit the road in about ten hours.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll come up with something before you need to leave. Go on to bed – I’ll see you when you wake up.”

Kris got up, took his dishes over to the sink then, just before he tossed the plastic dinner tray in the garbage can, said, “You know one thing that puzzles me?”

“What’s that?”

“Why do they call these things TV dinners?”

Saturday – December 24, 1825 – 2:04 pm – a cold, biting, but sun-shiny Christmas Eve

“About danged time you got your lazy hiney out of bed!” kidded Sidney as Kris staggered down the stairs into the living room.

Kris, tossing his bright red coat across the back of the couch, walked toward the kitchen door and replied, “I couldn’t figure out what to wear. Is there any coffee?”

“Get your coffee and meet me and Clyde out in the Sleigh House. You’re gonna love this!”


“What the heck!” cried out Kris as he entered the Sleigh House – stopping dead in his tracks – eyes fixed on his sleigh parked just beyond the ear-to-ear grins on the faces of Sidney and Clyde.

“Whaddya think?” inquired Sidney.
Kris slowly took in the entire view of the Sleigh House – from one side to the other. There, leaning against the left wall, were the twenty bikes with their multitude of flat tires and all the rigging. As he scanned towards the right, his sleigh – all loaded down with the evening’s delivery. Continuing to scan to the right and in front of the sleigh was the new drive train—and of all the unlikely things – eight reindeer!

“I’m a little confused,” shuddered Kris. “I mean – I have no doubt that these reindeer can pull my sleigh but – there’s no way that they can maneuver through the streets as fast as our twenty bicycle riders.”

To which Clyde was quick to respond, “Mister Kris, this here be one of the most derndest things I ever have seed. THESE HERE BABIES CAN FLY!

Saturday – December 24, 1825 – 3:03 pm – a cold… mostly just cold, Christmas Eve

Kris climbed aboard the toy-laden sleigh and Mrs. Kringle handed him a thermos of coffee. Sidney and Clyde tightened the straps across the bags of packages on the back of the sleigh. The Elves and the twenty (soon to be once again unemployed ) bike riders lined both sides of the drive just outside the Sleigh House doors. Kris released the brake, snapped the whip then shot out of the Sleigh House like a rocket. Just as Kris reached the end of the drive and the sleigh took flight, he was heard to exclaim...


Enjoy the ride!

Garage Sale Bargains

Speaking of garage sales – I’m reminded of times back in my early days of cycling when my brother, Gary, and I would jump on our Stingray-inspired, Brand X bikes (not that I wouldn't print the brand name – it’s just that I can’t remember it!) and go exploring every street, nook, and cranny of Midwest City, Oklahoma where we grew up.

We would be gone for hours. I don’t really remember our parents worrying too much. Maybe they did. But, then again, maybe the fact that they knew we were together and that the 60’s in Small Town, Oklahoma were a little more tame and worry free than the New Millennium 10’s in Big Mega City, Texas.

But anyway – there weren't too many places that Gary and I hadn't explored in our little hometown while we were out on our bicycle journeys. In fact, Gary and I actually mapped out the entire city simply by riding the streets and drawing and making notes as we rode along. I’m positive that we could have actually afforded to buy a map of the city – or even stopped by one of the local gas stations and picked one up for free – but such are the early days of two structural steel draftsmen!

As many kids did, we also collected stuff - junk to some, trash to others – treasures to many. One of our vast array of collections consisted of matchbooks. Many of our trips netted us a bountiful catch and a wide assortment of matchbook covers – there for the taking in the gutters and ditches along the sides of the roads. (Okay, so we weren't into collecting the high-dollar stuff yet!  We were just two young boys in the middle of Oklahoma, remember?)

During this time, many of our neighbors woke to the sounds of their newspaper landing on the front porch before the sun came up each morning. A newspaper precisely pitched from the street in most cases. A few remember waking up to the sounds of shattering glass – the not-so-precisely pitched delivery. Nevertheless, the trusty steed with butterfly handlebars, banana seat and extended sissy bar zipped through the streets and driveways of predawn in that little town in 60’s Oklahoma, faithfully delivering the daily news.

Exploring and mapping small-town streets, collecting matchbooks and delivering the morning newspaper – where is this little story going? Nowhere, I guess. I thought we were going to talk about garage sales.

Enjoy the Ride!

Friday, October 11, 2013


Em hurriedly worked through the huge basket of wet laundry—hanging each article on the backyard clothesline in order for them to dry in the vibrant afternoon sun. With three grown sons and their families to care for, clothes washing day was always a busy one. Not that Em had to do all the work herself mind you—all three of her daughters-in-law pitched in to tackle the abundance of household chores needing their attention. But as Em hung the last of the last piece of clothing on the line, the other three came running from the back porch announcing that they were finished and in unison sang out, “Can we go now? Can we go now? Can we go now?”

Em smiled, picked up the empty basket, headed their way and replied, “Yes, we can go now—I’ll meet you in the barn as soon as I take this basket back to the house.”

Now where, might you wonder, were these three so excited to be going?  While the where is always an adventure, it’s the what that is the important issue. For as they have done for over a hundred years, every Saturday after all the chores are done, Em takes her daughters-in-law on a cycling journey through the surrounding countryside. And as usual, their plan would be to ride for three or four hours then return home in time to take the dry clothes inside and start preparing the evening meal.

Now Em (actually her name is Emzara—even though some know her as Na’amah—and then there is a few who just call her Nancy. It was actually her husband that gave her the nickname of Em several hundred years earlier when they first started dating. Over the years, it just sort of stuck. But, to continue with what I started to say…) Now Em wasn't a fast rider but she wasn't what one would call slow either. Most outings she would easily take an opportunity or two to leave the other three in her dust—but then, like a good mother-in-law, dutifully wait for them to catch up at the top of the hill or in the shade of a tree. As Em made her way to the barn, she was already formulating the day’s route—and even where along that route that she might be able to get the advantage over them once again. Yes, Em had a competitive but playful side to her.

After filling water bottles and airing up tires, Em headed out through the barn door and led the way to the main road. Nel followed on her bike and Zoey and Anna brought up the rear on their tandem. Once reaching the road they turned to the right and then headed towards the outskirts of town. They waved as they were greeted by a few of the neighbors who were out working in their yards or firing up grills for their afternoon barbecues  The sky was a gorgeous blue, the sun was bright and the temperature was as nice as anyone could have asked for. As the first few miles ticked away, things couldn't have been more perfect for this merry band of four.

Soon Em and the girls neared the schoolhouse where they had all gone in their younger days. As they were riding past, they noticed a gang of kids painting graffiti all along the side of the building. They hollered at them to stop but the kids just laughed, ignored them and kept spray-painting their gang signs and other slogans. Em decided that it would be best to not antagonize them further so they continued on their ride—she’d report them to the authorities on their return into town.

Within a couple of more miles, the ladies were rolling along the country roads—through the occasional tunnels created by the trees towering along both sides of the road—or past the acres and acres of fields with their crops nearly ready to harvest. Em couldn't help but think of days long gone when she and Noah would be riding the tandem together and enjoying the wonderfulness of a ride like this. She remembered when Noah got her interested in cycling—a few months before they got married. Noah was quite the cyclist back in the day. He and his friends used to wear those goofy leather helmets and travel here, there and everywhere to bike races. They had even talked about doing The Texas Time Trials—but Texas hadn't been invented yet. And now those days were long, long gone. Noah hadn't even touched his bike in nearly a century. All he and their three sons did, from sunup to sundown, was work on that silly boat. It’s all they've done for decades.

About fifteen miles from town, as they rounded the corner, Em snapped back to reality as she saw her opportunity to get a jump on the girls—the two back-to-back hills she called “The Double Humper.”  Taking off like a bolt of lightening and just as she had planned, she left the girls in her dust.

Reaching the top of the second hill, Em looked around to see how far back the girls were—a good couple of hundred cubits or so. She slowed to a stop and got ready to dismount her bike when all of the sudden—WHAM!—she was knocked to the ground by two hooded men who had been hiding behind the bushes. They grabbed her bike and went running off into the woods. By the time the girls got to the top of the hill, Em had gotten up and dusted herself off—no major injuries or anything—but the two men and her bike were long gone. Deciding that it would be best to just head back home, Em, with Nel perched on the handlebars, took over riding the single bike—and wondered to herself, “What exactly is this world coming to?”

A little over an hour later, the girls were back riding through the center of town. Just as they were approaching the intersection of Fig Avenue and Gopherwood Street, the doors to the bank burst open and three men came running out carrying several bags of money—they knocked both bikes and all four women to the ground as they made their escape. Dazed, the ladies sat there in the road for a few minutes until the bank manager and a few customers emerged from the building and helped them to their feet. After checking to make sure that everything was okay, they got back on their bikes and started pedaling the last few miles to the house. “Goodness, this has sure been an eventful bike ride!”

Within a matter of minutes, the sky started turning dark gray. One moment the sun was shining—the next was almost like it didn't exist. They only had about three more miles to go before arriving home. As they entered their subdivision, the people that had been doing lawn work were throwing potted plants across the fence at their neighbors—who were responding by throwing lawn furniture and hot coals from the barbecue grill over the fence back at them. “This is all so weird.”

Actual photograph showing  bicycles being wheeled
 up into the ark. (Camera film quality left a little
to be desired back then.)

Two blocks from home, the sky let loose. In a matter of moments, everything was drenched. The girls quickly stashed the bikes in the barn and feverishly worked to get the soaking wet clothes off of the line and in the house. Once inside, Em got a fire going and the girls started wringing out the clothes and hanging them up all around the house to dry. All at once a streak of lightening illuminated the sky and thunder shook the walls so hard that dishes started falling from the shelves. Just then the front door burst open and Noah bolted in, quickly slamming the door shut behind him. Tossing his raincoat on the floor he glanced around the room, looking at his daughters-in-law then finally making eye contact with his wife as he announced—

“Ladies—pack your bags. We’re going on a cruise.”

Enjoy the ride!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bertha's Mailbag

Alright boys and girls, it’s that time once again — time to dig through the piles of letters and emails from loyal readers, just like you, who are trying desperately to solve some sort of important cycling dilemma. Or maybe it’s not actually all that important of a dilemma but it just seems that way to them. But regardless and without further ado…

Dear Bertha,
I always get confused when I’m removing the pedals from my bike—I can never remember which pedal turns which way to come off? Can you suggest something that will make it easy to remember?
Orville (not my real name) Smith
Bethany, Oklahoma

My Dear Orville,
This is a fairly easy one to remember. Just think about which way you pedal when you are riding your bike—this would be the same direction that you would want to turn your pedals in order to keep them tight. So, using that same logic, if you turned your pedals the opposite direction then they would loosen up. It’s “Righty Tighty / Lefty Loosey” only on the right side (chain side) of your bike—the “R” pedal side. Over on the “L” pedal side (non-chain side) it’s “Righty UN-Tighty / Lefty some-word-that-rhymes-with-lefty-that-means-to-tighten.” Okay, well maybe that part isn’t all that easy to remember but hopefully you get the idea.

Dear Bertha,
I’ve signed up for my first Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred this year in Wichita Falls, Texas. The ride is in late August and I’m sure that there is a good reason that they’ve picked this name for the ride. Since I’m an HHH virgin, do you have any suggestions about what I should do to prepare for the ride?
Alexander (not my real name) Smith
Plainfield, Indiana

You’re in luck Alexander,
Simply check out the cartoon at the bottom of the post.

Wow! I am really impressed so far. These have been some very good questions from our loyal readers this month. Let’s continue on…

Dear Bertha
I’ve never really cared too much for the taste of scotch but I’ve noticed that when my husband drinks it, I really like kissing him afterwards. There’s something about the slightest hint of scotch on his lips that really drives me crazy. I was just wondering, have you ever heard of anything like this before?
Sally (not my real name) Smith
Moab, Utah

Hmmm! Okay—and we were doing so well there with the first couple of letters. Sally, let’s see about keeping our topics along the lines of cycling related issues.

Dear Bertha,
I've shared your recent article regarding the origins of the Tour de France with several individuals whom I consider to be extremely knowledgeable in the field of bicycle and cycling history. I would like to report that the conclusion unanimously reached by all of these bicycle historians is that  your so-called investigation of the matter raises quite a few questionable concerns regarding accuracy—most notably being that you've somewhat overlooked the fact that the bicycle wasn't even invented until the latter half of the 1800's. Surely you don't expect your readers (loyal and/or otherwise) to swallow anything as preposterous as Joan of Arc racing a bicycle—not to mention a cast of (somewhat suspicious) characters who may or may not have lived at any time during the B.C. era. I think possibly a full retraction of your “facts” is in order.
Julius (not my real name) Smith
Boston (not the real city where I live), Massachusetts

Dear, Dear, Dear Julius,
It's no big secret that technology today is so much more awesome than we would ever have imagined. The internet has opened up a whole new world and uncovered things that many never even knew existed. Countless myths have been busted—volumes of history rewritten. Up until a few months ago, I thought Lance Armstrong had won the Tour de France seven times in a row. But check it out on the internet—it didn't happen! As far as the invention of the bicycle—I recently saw an authentic photograph (black and white photograph, of course) of Mr and Mrs Noah wheeling their bicycles up the ramp onto the ark. This alone completely shatters any notion of the bicycle not being invented until the 19th century. But that’s a whole different article!

I think we’ve got just enough room to squeeze in one last letter for this month:

Dear Bertha
I was wondering if you would be able to tell me if Sally (not her real name) is, in fact, actually my wife. If so, I’m planning on buying a LOT more scotch in the near future!
Bryce (not my real name) Smith
Moab, Utah

Good grief—

Enjoy the ride!

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Origin of the Tour de France

Once again it’s time to dive into the mailbag and respond to a letter from one of our multitudes of loyal readers. So, without wasting another moment…

Dear Bertha,
July is here and one of the most spectacular cycling competitions of all time is underway – the Tour de France. Could you tell us how this historic event came into existence?
Loyal Reader Norman Piedmont,
Dodge City, Kansas

Dear Norman,
I am often asked this question by many people every time the month of July rolls around – and I’m sure all of them have been very upset with me for ignoring their question year after year. Well this year, I've decided to not be so lazy and to do the necessary research needed in order to give an educated and informative reply to the request.

As it turns out, the seeds for the Tour de France were planted back during the 5th through the 3rd Centuries (BC, that is) – back when the area was known as Gaul.  During this time, Gaul was under the leadership of a guy named Brennus J Anquetil. Now Brennus as it turns out had this bone to pick with the ruler of Italy, Cipollini Caligula-something-or-other, so he challenged him to settle their differences with a bicycle race. At first Cipollini refused but then sent word that he would participate in the race but he refused to leave Italy. This forced Brennus’ army to cycle all the way across Gaul and though the Alps for the first battle – the Tour de Allia. Brennus of Gaul was victorious at Allia but Cipollini was fast and he escaped by sprinting off to Rome. Brennus organized a chase group to follow him and ended up kicking some serious hiney upon their arrival in Rome. Over the course of the next several years, the Gauls would tour from their home base over to Rome, harass the Italians and then zip on back to Gaul. Sometime around 345 BC, they got tired of the lack of competition and made peace with the Italians.

Things were fairly boring for about 220 years when in 125 BC the Italians, after having successfully developed the five-speed rear derailleur and, under the leadership of Julius Campagnolo, decided to organize their own Tour de Gaul and so they sneaked over to the south part of Gaul and smacked all the Gaulonites around quite a bit. In fact, they smacked the Gauls so hard they renamed the entire region Provincia Romana – which was just their fancy way of saying: A Roman Province. For years and years afterwards, the Italians maintained a serious grudge against all that Brennus had stood for – even up until the time around 52 BC when Caligula Julius Coppi emerged victorious against Gaulish Head-Honcho, Bernard H Vercingetorix at the Tour de Alesia. (There wasn’t really anything noteworthy with regards to cycling about the victory against Vercingetorix – I just wanted to type Vercingetorix correctly two or three times during this article.)

The Tour was pretty much ruled by the Italians for just shy of the next five hundred years. It was during this period that the Germans, ruled by brothers BMW Ullrich and VW Ullrich, decided to get in on some of the action. At the time, German engineering really hadn't been too successful in developing a good design for a quality bicycle. Fortunately for them, a young lad by the name of Flanders E Merckx in the neighboring region of De Ballo Gallico (later to be known as Belgium) had been churning out some fairly decent racing frames. So BMW headed west to procure frames while VW headed southeast to scrounge up Italian bike components.  Upon their return, and after a frantic, fast-paced assembly process, the Germans formed three teams: The Vandals, The Oberbecks, and The Zabels, and joined in on the Tour de Gaul. The Germans were ruthless. In addition to wreaking havoc all across Gaul, for the first time in the history of the Tour, the Germans had extended it on across the western borders and into Spain – imposing fierce casualties upon King Indurain and his army.

And so it was for the next fifty years or so – the German teams capturing the top three podium spots year after year after year. That was, until the emergence of a 24-year old cycling phenomenon from the northern area of Gaul – the King of the Franks, Clovis “Big Dog” One. Clovis was more ruthless than the Germans had ever dreamed of being. Not only did all of the Gaulish cyclists crumble beneath the wheels of his team, so too did the German’s and Italian’s hold on the area. By the time 490 AD rolled around, the Tour had transformed into the Tour de Franks. Naturally this name prompted lawsuits from a couple of major sausage/wiener manufacturers and so Clovis had it legally changed to the Tour de Francia.

For roughly the next one thousand four hundred years there was not too much of a significant change in the Tour de Francia. There was that one year though, around 1429, when a woman tried to enter the Tour – a young woman by the name of Joan of Arc. She commanded a really strong team with several victories – including the Tour de Orleans just a few months prior to the ’29 Tour de Francia. Unfortunately, although women had been semi-successful at being allowed to enter some of the lesser tours, they still weren't accepted in any of the Grand Tours. Joan pretty much disappeared from the cycling scene within the next couple of  years.

Other than the Joan of Arc thing in 1429, the Tour boringly plodded along until 1894 when Alfred Dreyfus had an affair – called The Dreyfus Affair.  Five years later, in 1899, the owner of De Dion-Bouton car works whacked the President of France, Emile Loubet, on the head with a walking stick. Local newspapers got involved and by 1903 the only way they could figure out how to settle their differences was to battle it out during the Tour de Francia – or Tour de France as it had become known by then.  The French were victorious in the 1903 Tour as Maurice Garin (actually born in Italy) dominated the race to take first place and Dreyfus was acquitted from his affair. From there, the rest is modern history.

Dear Bertha,
Once again I find myself asking, “Why in the world did I even bother to ask you a question?”
Lord only knows why I am Loyal Reader Norman Piedmont,
Dodge City, Kansas

Dear Norman,
Enjoy the Ride!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Mountain Biking in the 70's - Midwest City Style

As many of you know from my previous articles, I grew up in the middle of Oklahoma – in a little town spawned by the announcement of the development of Tinker Air Force Base in the 40’s – Midwest City – which, in turn, was home to the one and only bike shop in town, Vic’s Bike Shop on 15th Street – whose owner, Vic, was himself a retired Air Force something-or-other. So much for the opening geographical paragraph to set the scene.

I started working for Vic at the beginning of the 10-speed boom of the 70’s. There was nothing more that I loved to do than to come to work right after a big delivery of brand new Schwinn Continentals and Varsities(along with a few Nishikis and Motebecanes and Orions) and start tearing open boxes and building up the new shiny road bikes. But alas, my specialty seemed to be repairing the old klunkers that Vic had the contract on from the neighboring Tinker AFB.

Let me take a moment to describe these Tinker klunkers. Imagine something like a 1930’s Schwinn Excelsior balloon tire bicycle. Now imagine that bike with forty-plus years of hard, hard, usage and abuse and then multiply that abuse times seven. Then imagine, in an effort at some point in time to make the bike look semi-new again, someone decides to give the bike a paint job – so, they get a gallon of enamel – let’s say like yellow – and then get a big old 5” flat paint brush and paint the bike – yellow. We’re not talking paint the bicycle frame – we’re talking paint the bike yellow – frame, wheels, handlebars, spokes, tires, seat… you know – paint the entire bike yellow! Or maybe green or maybe blue – whatever. This was possibly before the invention of masking tape. And then at some other point in time a tire goes flat or something gets bent or broken so that’s when the bike gets hurled towards a big pile of other yellow and green and blue bicycles at the end of Tinker Building 3001 and once or twice a month Vic will stop by and toss them all in the back of his Chevrolet El Camino and haul them all over to the bike shop…

 …for me to fix!

And so began my love of the old balloon tire cruisers - the good ol’ klunker - the trusty steed that was the fetus of the modern day mountain bike. And there I was, with a seemingly endless supply of worn out frames and parts to work with. My first all-terrain cruiser, Ol’ Trashmo, was built from a 1940’s Schwinn Wasp and rigged with Suntour shifting system and Universal center pull brakes. I, unlike the morons at the Air Force base, even put a fairly nice paint job on it – black frame with baby blue rims. She was a beauty.

Now, Midwest City is a fairly flat city – not the kind of city that one could ever garner any hopes for being known as the birthplace of anything that would eventually contain the word “mountain” in it – such as mountain biking. But there is this spot in the city where Key Boulevard goes under the train tracks that offers up a pretty decent downhill run. As kids, it was the first place we’d head for with our big pieces of cardboard – aka toboggans – right after any kind of a decent snowfall. The perfect place for a mini-downhill test of Ol’ Trashmo. In fact, all along the right-of-way beside the tracks offered a fairly decent run to enjoy some off-road riding with a quite a heaping helping of obstacles to maneuver around and attempt to jump over. Thus, in the fall of 1972, in the heart of the flatlands: The Birth of the Mountain Bike.

Unfortunately, as the spring of ’73 grew near, I found out I was horrendously failing Home Ec – which in turn caused me to have to take it in summer school – which I also failed so I had to take it the next semester - in the morning and the afternoon—as kind of insurance in case I failed one of them. Needless to say, I didn't really seem to be the Home Ec kind of person but my mother pretty much made me keep taking it until I finally got a passing grade and could graduate from high school. Also, needless to say, this took serious time away from me fully developing and marketing my invention of the mountain bike.

I’m pretty sure that there were spies in Midwest City in the early 70’s – especially since we were right there next to Tinker AFB – because what I discovered that had taken place during those nine years while I was in high school trying to pass Home Economics seemed just a little more than coincidence the way it mimicked those exciting moments that me and my bike shop buddies experienced on the downhill slopes of the Key Boulevard train track crossing. You be the judge:

1973 – Joe Breeze, Charlie Kelly, Tom Ritchey and Gary Fisher build and ride klunkers (old Schwinn cruisers adapted for off-road riding).
October 1976 – The first Repack in Marin County at Mount Tamalpais.
1977 – Breezer One is completed.
September 1979 – Gary Fisher and Charlie Kelly founded  MountainBikes.
May 1981 – Bicycling magazine features MountainBikes.
1982 – 500 Specialized Stumpjumpers are released in the United States.

I am fairly certain that had it not been for my mom forcing me to pass Home Economics, those 500 bikes would have been Ashtabula Trashmo Bikes (ATB’s) – in any color you want as long as it’s black with baby blue wheels!

Enjoy the Ride!

PS—For what many to believe to be the real history of mountain biking, check out the time line at