I just turned 81. I like to say: I do a pretty good impression of a 90 year old when I walk, but when I ride my e-bike, I feel like I’m 20.
This is a saga of a lifetime of riding bikes! It is being broken into two parts, and this is part one.
From age 10 to age 73, I rode a progression of human-powered bike technology. The last seven years, I’ve mostly ridden a progression of electric-assist bike technology. I will explain why many thousands of dollars spent on human-powered bike technology doesn’t match even a thousand dollars spent on an e-bike.
I was the oldest boy in a family of six in Madison, Wisconsin. It was a rite of passage to get a bike for Christmas when you were 10 years old. My dad, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, had somehow got to know Mr. Schwinn, the president of Schwinn Bicycles. Shortly before Christmas, a big box would arrive from Schwinn, and on Christmas day, a full-size single-speed Schwinn bike would be found under the Christmas tree. I was barely big enough to ride it, but this had to be the bike I would ride for the next several years. I was still riding it to high school, but this didn’t make me one of the cool kids.
A townie, I commuted from our family home just off campus to the University of Wisconsin–Madison on a red Schwinn 10 speed with a steel frame and racing drop handlebars. The 10 speeds of that era had two gears in front and the new technology 5 speed derailleur in back.
At age 20, in 1960, I traveled to Europe on a junior year abroad program in Munich. My sole means of transportation from my dorm to classes and special events that whole year was the European 10 speed bike with flat-bar handlebars that you see below. I toured Europe, studied German and art history, but had little success with philosophy and physics. I also managed 60 days of skiing in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland in the Alps.
Back in college at UW Madison, I was still riding the red 10 speed Schwinn. At that point, I was lured into buying a top-of-the-line Peugeot PX10 10 speed road bike. The Peugeot was similar to the road bikes used in the Tour de France. It had a Reynolds 531 alloy frame, center pull brakes, and aluminum wheels with sew up tires. The tires were glued to the rims. If you had a flat, you had to peel off the tire, cut it open, insert a new inner tube, sew it up again, and glue it back on the rim. What a price to pay for a slight improvement in performance. It was too much trouble and I soon gave up riding the Peugeot.
I spent the next three years in Boulder, Colorado, where I was a post doc at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. I would occasionally ride the red 10 speed Schwinn up the mountain from our house in Table Mesa to my work at the NCAR Mesa Lab.
The following 30 years were spent working at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, but we lived 30 miles to the east near Annapolis. Unfortunately, we lived in a small bedroom community whose access was a very busy two-lane carriage road with no bike lane or shoulder. Bottom line: Except for some bike hikes with my son in Boy Scouts, I did almost no bike riding for 30 years.
On my retirement in 2005, we moved to Three Lakes Wisconsin in the summers; Lindon, Utah, near Provo in the winters; and this past winter St. George in Southern Utah. All three have marvelous bike trails as well as quiet streets and less traveled roads ideal for bike riding. In Lindon, the Murdock irrigation canal ran down our back property line and it had a very rough gravel & dirt bike path beside it. In 2011, Walmart was selling an off-brand Proline 24 speed mountain bike with full suspension and disk brakes for $200. I couldn’t resist! (See 2011 photos.) I had never had a bike with either of these features. But it was big and heavy, and the rear suspension would totally collapse if you tried to ride up hill. However, it was serviceable on the level, 18-mile gravel & dirt bike path along the canal on my back property line.
That summer of 2011 in Wisconsin, the local bike shop was selling out all of its bicycle stock and I got a great $700 price on an excellent Specialized Allez 16 speed road bike (see May 2011 photo). It was my first bike with integrated brakes and shift actuators. The bike has 8 gears in back and two in front for a total 16 combinations. This would be my go-to bike on the back roads of Wisconsin and the Provo River bike trail in Utah for the next two years.
Now I was hooked on road biking and couldn’t resist trying out electric bikes. I will roll through those bikes in the next article.