Evolution of a cyclist: The Takara takes the road

by BionX Electric Motor on September 9, 2010

After completing college, my first job was with a defense contractor in California. I soon decided I was neither a West Coast guy nor a military-industrial-complex kind of guy. A year later I was back in New York, going to school and teaching classes at CUNY (City University of New York). Teaching part-time, I soon became dismayed by the high price of rents and everything else in the City. One year later, I moved out of New York, to begin my slow climb up the economic ladder, working full time and saving up my money in my new home, Hartford, Connecticut.

Takara bicycle

Takara bicycle

Soon I had a new girlfriend, Terri, not just a girlfriend, but a girlfriend who liked bicycling. Excellent. However, my tried and true Schwinn Varsity was about 100 miles away in my mother’s apartment in Queens, keeping my mother company in my absence. Schwinn had a reputation as a nearly bullet-proof machine, but at the same time, in the ten years since I bought it, bikes had gotten quite a bit faster and lighter.

Farmington Avenue in West Hartford was home to many businesses, including a well-established New England “outdoor” store, selling all varieties of sports equipment. One Saturday morning, Terri and I drove over and took a look at their selection of bicycles. This was the early 1980’s, and most bikes still had steel-frames, 10 speeds, and dropped, or “goose-neck” handlebars. After some rooting and browsing, I picked out a sleek burgundy-colored Takara, a Japanese-made bike costing around $200 — not a fortune, but not a bargain-basement price either.

The Takara became my steady companion for the next 20 years, outlasting my relationship with Terri by a large margin. However, as I moved into my mid-thirties, the thrill of riding hunched over, grasping onto dropped handlebars slowly began to fade. In addition, by dint of working at a desk for several years, my physique had become a bit more “plush,” and I found the ride on the Takara’s hard skinny tires to be uncomfortably rough. As a result, I began riding less and ventured for a time into some other hobbies.

Before long, people began to talk about new bicycles called “hybrids,” which were a cross between traditional 10-speed road bikes, and the relatively new “mountain bikes” which had developed in California and the Pacific Northwest, and then gradually moved east across the country. Not to be confused with the newer term e.g. hybrid electric bike which refers to a combination of human and electric input.

My understanding of how a “hybrid” differed from a traditional 10-speed bike, like my Takara, was that it had more gears, straight handlebars and wider tires, and so, being kind of a do-it-yourself guy, I decided to try to “make” my Takara into a hybrid. I didn’t try to expand the existing 10 gears, but I did buy wider tires and new handlebars. The tires on my Takara measured 27 X 1-1/8 inch, while the new tires I bought measured a beefy 27 X 1-3/8 inch, a quarter-inch wider. The brake levers on my gooseneck handlebars could not be mounted on the new, straight handlebars, so I had to purchase replacement brake levers that would fit the straight bars. One weekend, after I had collected all the parts, I made the conversion, and rolled out of the house for a test drive on my new/old “hybrid.” I was extremely pleased with the results. The seating position was much more comfortable, and the bike was much better over bumps.

With my new ride, I regained my former life-long enjoyment of bicycling, and once again ventured out on long rides, both by myself and with others. One of the organizations I found particularly exciting was the 5 Borough Bicycle Club, a club with over one thousand members, hosting rides around New York City every weekend. Early into my membership in the club, I went on a ride which began at the famed Plaza Hotel in the City, then rode uptown, crossed the George Washington Bridge and moved out into northern New Jersey.

It was a hot day, but I was enjoying the trip, and we made a lunch stop somewhere in Passaic or Bergen, then headed out for the return trip to the City. Surrounding the GW Bridge in northern New Jersey is a natural geological formation called the Englewood Cliffs, which rise steeply from the flats of the Jersey meadows to a promontory several hundred feet above the Hudson River, where they meet the deck of the GWB. Returning to the City required climbing up to the top of these cliffs, and as I made my gravity-defying climb with the group, I gradually down-shifted until, finally, I was in the lowest of my 10 gears.

I slowly cranked my way up the steep grade, struggling and sweating while other riders on their 21-speed bikes moved upwards past me in their lower “granny gears.” I became hotter and more winded as I continued to wrestle with gravity and a cardio-vascular system that was not at its peak. Eventually, not far from the top, the advantage of pedaling reached a point of diminishing returns, and I dismounted to (gasp!) walk the remaining distance up to the top of hill. My trip ended pleasantly and uneventfully, but after my return home, I remembered the steep climb and the failure of my Takara to meet the test.

A week or two later, I was at my local bicycle shop in Newington, Connecticut, looking at a new 21-speed Mongoose Hybrid bike. I asked the shop owner if I could take a test ride, and went out into the large parking lot behind the store with the bike. I hopped on and started pedaling, and 700 X 38 tires on the Mongoose rolled smoothly and effortlessly around the lot. I tried out the twin twist shifters with 21 gears, and they shifted smoothly and quietly. Then I grabbed the brakes to test their effectiveness, and the bike pulled back instantly, leaving me trying to stay onboard. I did a few more brake tests, this time a little better prepared for the quick deceleration of the strong brakes, and then headed back into the shop.

I was totally sold, and I paid cash for the Mongoose on the spot. The price was around $235, only a little more than I had paid for my Japanese 10-speed Takara about two decades before. Suddenly, I had a new bike again, and I had again entered a new chapter in my bicycling evolution.

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