Boomers and Bikes

Fri, 07/01/2016 - 1:00pm

In 1972, I spent a summer in Arlington, Virginia and worked at National Airport ― I was a cook. I was staying near the Pentagon and would ride my Schwinn Varsity 10-speed to work at 6 a.m. It was a downhill scoot to the airport. After an eight-hour trick, I’d pedal home, play my guitar, take a shower, and then hop on my bike to go see my girlfriend. She had a gig at the Kennedy Center. In those days there were no bike paths―no rules. I weighed 165 pounds, had long curly hair, careworn cutoff jeans, and a tee-shirt ― no helmet. I was a rebel without a clue tearing around on a bicycle because I didn’t have a car.

A typical ride began with riding my Schwinn by the front door of the Pentagon on my way into the District. One particular day I saw an Army Helicopter coming in for a landing ― I love looking at these things ― so I stopped to see what was happening. I was literally at the front door of the Pentagon. (This would not happen today.) The helo landed and out poured two Marines who abruptly turned and saluted six heavily decorated servicemen who, on the quick step, walked right up to the front door. I stood and watched. They were greeted by two other saluting Marines as they entered the building. The whole cadre walked by me as I leaned on my bicycle, and no one batted an eye at the skinny guy with the long curly hair. I hopped on my bike and continued along the Potomac River to the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and rolled over to the Lincoln Memorial.

I’d alternate from the sidewalk to the street ― weaving in and out of traffic ― as I tore down Pennsylvania Avenue toward Georgetown. I’d ride through Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown ― a very cool place with nice gardens and lots of trees. Then, after looking at nice old historic homes in Georgetown, I’d head back toward the Kennedy Center, see the girlfriend, and then pedal back home. I hear now that they have an elaborate series of bike paths in the District of Columbia, but I’d rather ride with my own agenda. I don’t like rules ― never did. But, these days, people would get arrested for some of the crazy stuff I did that summer.

Up until a few years ago, I would ride my bicycle in the main parking lot at the ferry dock. I’d scoot up and down the lines to collect tickets, and then I could scoot over to the entrance to the parking lot and check in the cars. It was a good system. Ferry owner Ray Linda said to me once, “That’s a good idea." And, it was. Today, however, with the many rules we all must adhere to it’s not such a good idea. But when I work in the standby lot in the summertime, the old beat up Specialized Bike I have works perfectly. I’ve beat on all my bikes over the years and this bike is no exception. It has one speed, which is all I need. The bike has issues; however, it owes me nothing after 10 years of abuse. The bike is always in my truck and it pretty smashed up and rusty. It gets the job done in the dusty standby lot.

Baby-boomers will continue to ride bicycles. It’s easy and fun, and really cheap entertainment. I see all kinds of boomers on bikes at the docks. Moreover, there are different styles of bikes that come rolling through the ferry docks. For example, you’ve got your bicycle built for two rigs, recumbent bikes (the kind you sit down and peddle), and of course your standard issue designs. Lately I’ve seen some electric bikes and they are interesting. They are battery operated and seem pretty slick. Our neighbor has a couple of these bikes ― one with a surfboard rig, and one with a dog rig. They are functional designs and rife with aesthetic intrigue. I expect to see more alternate bike designs evolve as baby-boomers continue not to go gently into that good night. Because you know, we’re cool.

Last Saturday, a guy comes puttering down the sidewalk on a gas powered Columbia Bicycle. The guy was wondering if he could get his car on the boat, then he just decided to ride his bike in the rain on the island ― I told him to man up. Then, I picked his brain about his petrol-powered bike, and he gave me a snootful of information. “It’s an original Columbia built in 1950, it’s got the same seat and handlebars and rims. See, the motor fits right on with clamps and the gas tank is strapped here,” he said. “Where’d ya get this,” I asked. “Craigslist. Three hundred dollars,” he said. I wanted this bike ― now! “Hey, can I take a spin,” I asked. “Sure,” he said. The guy gave me the drill for getting this thing going and I was off tearing around the ferry docks. I was having a total blast! This thing was a fast and tight little sled. I just had to pedal the bike with the clutch in, get to a certain speed, and then pop the clutch. Bingo! My dockmate Owen took a couple of snaps as I tore by the freight shed. This would be a perfect rig for me to hit my coffee shops in town. I mailed a picture to my neighbor and he said, “Get it!”

If I get one of these, the bride is going to want to get a three-wheeled rig ― she can put the dogs in a basket on the back ― and these two boomers will ride into the future on our bikes.