When last I wrote, The Mitchell family was completely devoid of bicycles because my the theft of my dear Bianchi Avenue cyclocross bike, and my son’s Ross DiamondCruiser city bike was out of comission (in the shop awaiting a new crank after I snapped the left pedal off at the crank-arm housing for the 2nd time). Ordering the old-style one-piece crank took three months the first time I had this problem; but since I fractured my pelvis the first time I snapped off a pedal, and avoided any major injury this time I consider myself blessed.
However, I was really not looking forward to shopping for a replacement bike because:
- Bikes and bike gear are expensive. Even the fabled “clueless dentists and lawyers” of NYCBikeSnob and Two Johns fame gulp hard when they handover their credit card to purchase the latest Cervelo bike or Assos kit.
- Our family resources are limited by my being on disability/job seeking, and having a son with school and singing tuition expenses.
- I get real particular, obsessive/compulsive about researching gear for my favorite hobbies (carryover from my stereo shopping compulsion from the late 1970’s-1980’s days as a rock critic). Exhaustively obsessive researching this stuff. I would rather the perfect bike fall into my lap like manna from heaven.
- Did I mention that bikes are expensive?
Anyway, this past Saturday I went to the fabled flea-market at the Ashby BART station to start looking for a replacement bike. Well… actually I went looking to see if the beloved Bianchi was in the underground local fenced bike market. There were several local bike vendors. Only one of them looked like he was part of the black market for bikes. Everyone else had the look and feel of a LBS that could not afford store front. These guys had in addition to a surprisingly wide selection of bikes, they also had parts, accessories, tools, and expertise (bike fit, retail prices, how to accessorize for commute or road riding, etc.) that was at least as good as my favorite funky bike shop.
Specifically, I saw a 2007 Gary Fisher MTB, a late 1970’s Peugot in mint condition, several DiamondBack MTBs in not so gently used condition, a “late model” cruiser of unknown make/model with swept-up handlebars that would have been the perfect ride for the Venice Beach (SoCal) strand, and a Schwinn Varsity ten-speed that I wanted when I was in ninth grade (39 years ago).
One of the DiamondBacks was the right size for me (non-technical, big), and had handlebars in the hated “hybrid” upright position that is hated by purists but my favorite position for commuting. This large DiamondBack had a new saddle commuter style saddle, but the frame was in very rough condition. It looked like it had been through a sand blaster, with signs of metal fatigue. Tempted by the price ($60) I went looking for other possibilities.
Then I saw her:
(This is just a photo of a Giordana Capella frame, identical to the one I saw at the flea-market I found in a quick websearch… I forgot to take a picture of my find to document the score with my cellphone camera)
A brilliant gleaming red authentic Giordana Capella with white handle bar tape job, white (like new) saddle. I just stared for two whole minutes. Finally I walked closer for a closer inspection: Campagnolo gear set, Shimano brakes, Speedplay “Lollipop” pedals. The vendor saw me staring and asked if I was interested. I nodded (this was way more bike than I could afford, and probably more bike than I could effectively handle). I asked a couple questions about the size and country of origin, which he answered (60 cm… he brought out a tape measure to verify; handmade frame and parts from Italy). Another minute of silent staring by me as the vendor (“Mike the Hat Guy” babbled on about tires and wheel set). Finally I had the nerve to ask the price: $300. Might as well have been $3,000; above my pay grade. Mike the Hat Guy broke my trance and said, “Look, give me some ID, and you can take it for a test ride. This is a fast bike. You will not believe how fast.” I handed over my expired California Driver’s License (my operational license was stolen about a year ago, and since I do not drive anymore I have not bothered to replace it with a new one or California ID card), and hopped on. OMG, one soft turn of the pedals and I was moving through a not crowded section of vendor aisles. What a light and speedy bike this is. I was in sweats, but underneath was my bibs and jersey from spin class. I was in cyclist mode, not consumer mode. I got out of the parking lot and onto Ashby Ave. Lou Reed said it: “Oh, new sensation.” OMG, OMG, OMG! Effortless speed; phenomenal breaking; great fit/feel even in the drops (a position which I normally hate; my nickname “BadBack Trojan” is well earned). While rolling, I started having my “Spartacus” daydream again; the one where I am wearing the red SaxoBank Swiss National championship replica kit on a training ride when suddenly Mr. Fabian Cancellara (Spartacus!) pulls alongside me and we start comparing notes on how hard it is to be fitted for bikes and gear as a +6′ 1″ athlete, and what possessed him to attack so decisively on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix last year. Before the day dream could go further, I decided to pull back into the parking lot with this incredible steed.
Get back to Mike’s stall (along with bikes he also sells bootleg DVDs and CDs… standup comedy, P90X or Insanity fitness, local rap), shaking my head. Mike says, “Look, you are not going to find a finer bike out here today, or any other fleamarket or used bike shops. $300 is a steal, but I can go as low as $250.” $250? $250!?! I think I can come up with $250 with a little time. We work out a deposit arrangement, I go to my BofA ATM and get $60, and now I am smiling. I hand the cash to Mike. The sorrow over the lost Bianchi is a memory. I start talking to Mike about my plans for the bike (“No this won’t be a commuter bike uh, I plan to race and do century charity rides and Grand Fondos on this bad boy andum if I get my butt kicked it will not be the equipment’s fault and yeah I see you looking at me and I don’t weigh what the average weekend warrior bike racer does but I promise this Lent I am going to be dedicated to my diet cause I have a great training guru named Al Painter maybe you heard of him and I can’t let this bike down if I get it anyway I don’t need P90X disks cause I can do this fitness thing on my own and I have been slowly getting fitter andum have I told you about Al…” My excitement about the possibility of even sitting on this fast bike again had me so discombobulated that I completely forget my home training and education. I talked in run-on sentences punctuated with “ohs,” “yeahs,” plus “andums” for five straight minutes. I asked a couple subtle questions (still rambling) to be sure his bike inventory is not part of the “hot sheet.” In all honesty, I am not sure what I would have done if I was not convinced that Mike was a clean operator.
So here it is, two days after the vision in red. A little more composed, but still giddy with excitement. I have looked up the Capella online, and I am pretty confident that I can’t go wrong with spending $250 on this bike; even if it is 1991-1992 bike. I am trying to figure out which savings account to break into to finance the $190 balance. How to convince my wife that financing my bicycle dreams is part of the price of having a not so “chunky hubby” to fire her dreams. Trying to figure out if public high school for my son is worth my hours of bliss in the saddle. Contemplating the meaning of this gift from the cycling gods; wondering what form of penance would be the truest expression of my thanksgiving; pondering if I want to immediately swap the Speedplay pedals for Shimano SPDs. One door closes, another door opens with an upgraded dream.