Evolution of a Cyclist: My Schwinn Varsity

by BionX Electric Motor on August 27, 2010

Throughout my childhood and adolescence, bicycles were a big part of my life.  All of my friends rode bicycles around the neighborhood, and, in addition, on the weekend, my best friend’s mother would ride with my friend and myself to Flushing Meadows Park, several miles away.  This was the site of the New York World’s Fair in 1964-65, and afterward, although most of the structures that housed the fair were torn down, a number of iconic structures remained, including the US Steel Corporation’s Uni-sphere, and the New York State and New York City Pavilions, housing, among other things, a rotating restaurant with a commanding view of central Queens.

I owned several English bikes, three-speed affairs with internal planetary hubs branded as Rudge, Raleigh, or the like.  I must confess, that prior to my 18th birthday, I had some difficulty distinguishing between the activities of “bicycling” and “demolition derby.”  I was not alone in this; my friends seemed to share this same characteristic.  Ironically, my last “English Racer” met its demise only 1 block from my house, on 37th Avenue in Queens.  I was riding through an area where trees along the avenue had recently been pruned.  As I cruised confidently along the street, a pruned branch inserted itself into my front wheel, where it rotated with the wheel in a half-circle, then locked against the front fork, launching me up high over the handlebars and approximately 20 feet forward, where I landed, stunned but uninjured, in the middle of traffic on the business-lined street.

After I picked myself up, I examined my bike and discovered that the accident had turned the front fork of my bike into a pretzel.  I walked home with my beloved but crippled English racer, and that night, I presented my tale of woe to my parents.  I guess I had already been dreaming for about a year or so of a blue Schwinn Varsity with (gasp!) ten speeds.  This was a very desirable, high-quality machine made by the famous, long-established bicycle manufacturer from Chicago, Illinois.  I asked my parents if I could go shopping at the local bicycle shop in Jackson Heights, and obtained their permission.  The next weekend, my father and I walked down to the store, and emerged about 30 minutes later with the aforementioned bike of my dreams, equipped with water bottle, dual brake handlebar levers, saddlebag, and, yes, believe it or nuts, a genuine Schwinn brand speedometer.  It was sweet!

It took a few rides to sort out the gears and dual derailleurs.  I was somewhat of a geek in those days, destined to study engineering in college, and I would take the owner’s manual for the bike and sit down and “study” the 10 different gear ratios which could be obtained through various combination’s of the two front chain-wheels and five rear cogs.  The bike soon became my main mode of transportation, and I would ride it throughout the city, over the 59th Street bridge into Manhattan to ride in Central Park on the weekends, and out on Route 25, Northern Boulevard, into Little Neck, Great Neck, and beyond, to destinations in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.  As I approached my last year of high school, my bicycling trips gradually evolved into longer and longer rides.

When I went to college in Rochester, New York, my Schwinn Varsity went with me, and I used it to travel downtown from my suburban campus, and to explore the rich (although sometimes chilly) scenic beauty of Monroe County.  I made some friends upstate, including Torney, a farmboy from Sussex, New Jersey who had enrolled in chemical engineering in order to realize his life-long dream:  getting a job with the Exxon oil company.

Torney was a year ahead of me in school, and when I was a junior, he announced that, after graduation, he was going to ride his bicycle from Rochester down to his father’s farm in Sussex, and asked me if I wanted to go.  Immediately, I said yes.  During the next few days, I scrounged up the saddle bags I had used as a teenager to tour the mountains of Vermont, and packed them with clothes and camping gear to use for the ride.  A few days before our departure, it snowed, stranding a group of cyclists in central New York and forcing them to flag down a train along the Conrail freight tracks for rescue.

We fared somewhat better, enjoying good weather and following a route which took us from Rochester to Seneca Falls, to Ithaca with it’s steep hills, beautiful Lake Cayuga, and famed Cornell University, and then south, through central New York, Watkins Glenn, and Binghamton, and then into the Catskills and out the other side for the steep roller-coaster descent through Oliveria and Mariansville, then on through Port Jervis to the point of New Jersey which comes up to meet New York state, which houses the woods and farms of Sussex New Jersey

Our trip took 6 days, and we spent a day resting up at Torney’s family farm before going on to New York City, where we stayed in my mother’s apartment in Queens.  The next weekend, Torney and I were both in Manhattan, registered to ride in a 24-hour marathon ride through Central Park sponsored by the Pepsi Cola Corporation.   Our muscle-wrenching adventure ended with pins and patches earned by cycling 200 miles in 24 hours.  After the marathon, I parked my Schwinn Varsity for what would turn out to be a very long time.  Torney and I went our separate ways.  He donned a shirt and tie and began his career at Exxon Corporation, and I spent the summer driving a taxi to earn cash for my last year of college upstate.
Why is this on this site? Well, the next step is getting a BionX motor kit installed on it.

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