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Friday, July 6, 2012

Gladys is AAA OK…

GladysNow in the building of chaises, I tell you what,

There is always somewhere a weakest spot,--

In hub, tire, felloe, in spring or thill,

In panel, or crossbar, or floor or sill,

In screw, bolt, thoroughbrace,—lurking still,

Find it somewhere you must and will,…

The Deacon’s Masterpiece

Oliver Wendell Holmes

Gladys is old. Nor was she a spring chicken when our paths crossed years ago. In fact Gladys is a vintage Columbia bicycle (“Roll on, Columbia, Roll on…,” 3/2/2010  ) and I know it’s not considered gentlemanly to reveal a lady’s age, but let me say if I were to fire up a birthday cake, present it to her in the garage, she would bask in the glow of thirty-seven candles. As Gladys and I roll along, we are a parade of the ages, a combined one hundred five years wobbling our way around the Loop.

Each time we head on down the road, it’s always with a tinge of uneasiness on my part. As we all are, Gladys is the sum of  her parts. She’s a mechanical being, Gladys is. Things mechanical break down, wear out, fall apart. The covenant between us, Gladys and me, is that she won’t fall apart at the point of no return, leaving me to plod the long road home.

A half dozen years ago in addition to Gladys’s usual wheezing, I noticed strange tinkling noises coming from my vintage Columbia. Whatever your mode of transportation, you are in tune to the sounds it makes and if these in any way vary, it does not bode well and  usually means a trip to your friendly mechanic is in order. I squeaked to a halt just a stone’s throw from the Lower Loop bridge (one quarter mile from the point of no return) and hopped off to check out the problem. The chiming, I discovered, came from a number of broken spokes on the front wheel. With every revolution of the wheel the loosed spokes would jangle against their fellows, thus the tinkling sound. I held my breath she’d hold up until we returned home (no easy thing to do when you’re pedaling an old classic).

At home, after a futile attempt to reconnect and tighten the spokes failed, I upended Gladys, removed her front wheel, and headed for the bike shop in town. Just a matter of replacing the spokes, I thought. Things mechanical are always complicated; the shopkeepers tell me they can’t fix the wheel, had no replacement for it, and would have to order a new one. I’d be afoot, I’m told, for at least two weeks.

In the Valley last August I met Eric Benshoof and his bad boy vintage Harley, Snedley. The “Collector” license plate started us talking about the ages of our respective rides. That led to a little research into Gladys’s history. I contacted the Columbia Bicycle Manufacturing Company in Westfield, Massachusetts, and straightaway noticed a bit of disconcerting information on their home page: something to the effect they have no parts inventory for vintage Columbia’s and recommended eBay or Craig’s List as good sources to look for replacement parts. I accessed the site’s “contact us” button and after an email or two from Lisa, I learned Gladys was a Tourist 3 bicycle (“3” for three-speed, I assume) and was manufactured in 1975. (Gladys, then, predates Snedley by two years.) All this serves to reiterate Gladys is a classic, and classics are especially prone to mechanical failure. I’m certain, capricious as the old lady is, one day she’ll leave me afoot at the far end of our route…most likely when I’ve an appointment to keep or some time-sensitive obligation to meet.

The other day I heard some news that takes a bit of pressure off my Valley rides, lessens my fear somewhat that one day I’ll be left afoot in the vicinity of the stop sign where the Lower Loop road connects with the upper. The Triple-A organization announced it has extended its coverage to include not just motorists but bicyclists as well. Now I’ve been a card-carrying member of AAA for years and have yet to use their roadside assistance services. AAA’s coverage extends to classic cars and motorcycles, so why not vintage bicycles, I ask? That means, of course, in addition to hauling my camera and pepper spray canister, I’ll now have to pack a cell phone, too.When you ride a classic, it’s not a matter of if, but where and when.

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