A friend once told me that I reminded him of Pee Wee Herman, “but in a good way.” I’m still struggling to figure that out; whether it was some sort of compliment, whether he meant that it was clear I was in line to inspire some limited edition dunks, or whether it was an honestly blurted out sentence followed by damage control. That was over a year ago, and I remain, as ever, completely confused.
He didn’t know then, and neither did I, that I would be dreaming of a red and white bicycle within the next few months. A steel IF Crown Jewel, in fact; mostly red [like Pee Wee’s], with a dash of white, maybe a touch of black. Classic colors because I hear that custom frames, like wedding bands, are mostly forever.
And like ideal husbands, in my mind, the Crown Jewel was smooth and perfect; like so perfect that I would never want to ride anything else and everything else would feel unnecessarily harsh due to its shoddy craftsmanship. Nothing, even a carbon fiber bike made by 8 year old South Asian children carefully selected by Pinarello for their dexterity, would ever compare. It would accelerate at the flexing of a muscle and would take me to far off places like Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and even Tokyo. We would be together, forever, and it would be the only bike I’ll need for the rest of my life. Sure, there might be something carbon in the later years of my life when my mid-life crisis hit, but out of a burning building, I would only grab the IF. In fact, in my imagination, I would even run into said burning building to carry out the IF: pristine and sparkling, ever ready to sweep me off my cleated feet, albeit with some melted tires.
All of which was sort of silly and purely the stuff of dreams because I had never ridden an IF before. Actually, my rides have been limited to one steel Bianchi single-speed which feels like it was made from water pipes, one aluminum track bike, and one handmade aluminum Cyfac that’s too big for me but has Campy Record on it. So, yes, I based my dreams on the opinions of friends who either work at IF, have IFs or who have ridden an IF. Great sample pool, I know.
But as luck would have it, last week, a green Crown Jewel arrived at NYC Velo. A demo bike for a potential IF buyer and built up with Dura-Ace. With a 47cm seat tube and 51 top tube, it was a touch too big, but something I could get my leg over, and when offered for a road ride upstate, I immediately accepted. I may have asked my customary, “really?” but it was with the intense hope that yes, really, I could take this out for more than just a spin around the block.
Late Friday morning, pedals screwed on, saddle switched out, and appropriately dressed, I headed out with Mike up 9W, the goal being the Palisades Market, maybe Piermont if we felt like it. It was little-ring-sitting-in riding for me; maybe taking it a little too easy but paranoid about hurting my leg so soon after getting back on the bike. The rear gear got switched up and down, up and down, Shimano apparently making more sense to me than all that Italian stuff that requires opposable thumbs. The bike, though obviously heavier than carbon fiber, was nothing like the steel I’m used to; it’s solid but doesn’t feel like there’s a dead body attached to your rear wheel. There was no conscious realization that it was steel or that extra effort was required to ride it. Light enough on the flats and secure on the descents, with gears that didn’t question my constant shifting, it was a lot of bike.
But it was a lot of fun bike, which was new and different, too. There wasn’t the terror of not being able to stop [I’ve given up on halting the track bike, quite honestly] but that’s not to say it’s a slow ride. Even in the little ring, with legs that have almost forgotten how to pedal, it required only a little pushing to kick up the speed to 22mph. And with no need to worry about how to slow down, it fed a desire to go faster and longer and up and over bigger and bigger hills. It got me to the Palisades Market without killing my knees or legs or lungs or heart. And I had it going even faster on the way back [although, yeah, that tailwind helped out, too].
It was over all too soon, and I almost didn’t want to return it. Actually that’s a lie. I didn’t want to return it, period. I wanted to ride it again the next day, and the next day, and the day after that. It didn’t even fit, which was the weird thing; I’d never felt such an attachment to something that was obviously less than perfect, that didn’t quite conform into my mental image of how things should be. It was clearly too big, but here I was, finding it difficult to say goodbye to something whose purpose was to fulfill a temporary curiosity; a loaner.
A few days later, I heard that little bike had changed. Narrower bars, shorter stem, the works:
“It’s different, now. You should try riding it again, next time you’re in town.”
Me and that little green loaner? That rebel?
Oh, I’ll be on it again, luck permitting. We’ve got some big adventures to live.