Sunday, June 6, 2010

Every Story Has a Beginning

More proud than most fathers, I brought my new mountain bike home just two short weeks ago. After five months of waiting I could not be more pleased to have it taking up space in my living room. Thinking back and counting as best as memory and fingers will allow, this is the seventh mountain bike I have thrown a leg over in my lifetime. Although the other six have all been cast aside, they each served as a crucial element in my transformation from a normal human to a cyclist. So where did it all begin?

My first two mountain bikes predate digital photography and even the interweb as it is known today. The bike that fueled the beginning of my journey was horrible by today's standards. Even by the standard of the day when it was made, my first bike was hardly worth riding. I began life as a roadie and only came to own a mountain bike when my sister won a coloring contest at the local grocer and was awarded a mountain bike for her efforts to keep her crayons inside the lines. The bike was a 10 speed Columbia with non-indexed above the bar shifters and brakes that must have been solely for looks because they certainly had no stopping power. Comically, the bike was badged with Diet Mountain Dew stickers. Obviously the drink of choice for mountain bikers in the early nineties. I'm sure there is a photo hiding in a box somewhere but to look at it may burn my eyes. As inadequate as this bike was, it paved the way for a life spent behind the bars. I rode that bike as hard as I could and it showed. I broke many of the sub par components and first learned bike maintenance skills trying to keep it on the trail. My favorite memory of the Columbia involves sitting in the garage watching my father bend the rear triangle with a crowbar after a particularly nasty crash left it twisted and unridable. I spent hours aboard that bike and it led me to meet many people who would teach me the finer points of riding and mountain bike culture. But as will all bikes, it had to leave to make room for another.

My second mountain bike was not the best purchase I have ever made but at the time it seemed like a good idea. With a pocket full of money from a summer of hard work I strolled in to the local shop to buy clipless pedals, proper bike shoes and a Scwhinn. The model name escapes me but given the caliber of the bike it certainly does not warrant any research. I was proud at the time though. This bike was a huge step forward me. It had a 21 speed drive train with twist shifters and I thought that was the hottest thing going. There was a suspension fork but as with many forks of the era it really did not do much. The bike's steel frame offered more to soften the ride than the fork ever did. Only a a year and a half after buying the bike I had outgrown its limited capabilities and sold it to a friend. Enter my first "real" mountain bike.

After ten years of abuse and many wardrobe changes she still looked pretty good in her final days.

In 1998 I bought a Specialized Rockhopper made from Ritchey Nitanium tubing and for the first time felt that I had a capable machine. It had a relatively nice frame and a Manitou suspension fork that provided a whopping 63mm of travel. The component spec was far better than on my previous bikes. This is where the love truly began. I spent hour upon hour riding that bike as hard as my little legs would allow. I even spent the first half of my initial year of racing aboard her flexy frame. That bike was rebuilt more than any I have ever owned and stayed in my stable for over ten years until I recently gave the frame away because I simply had no further use for it. It served as a race bike for both myself and later my wife. I turned it into my first single speed and even built it into a drop bar commuter at one point. Astetically, it has always been my favorite. Its steel frame was simply brushed and clear coated. The graphics package was subtle enough to not be distracting. By the time I gave it away every surface had been scratched but it still had plenty of life left in it. Perhaps most importantly, that is the bike that deepened my obsession and led me to purchase the fastest bike I have ever thrown a leg over.

If that's not sexy I don't know what is.

To this day I still proclaim the magical power of my 2001 Schwinn Homegrown. It is the bike that carried me to my first race team and through the two most serious seasons of my lackluster racing career. And this is the origin of Dirty Bike Love. Someone once asked me how the title of my blog came to be and the answer was simple. My Homegrown. She and I spent a great deal of time together and my obsession with her was painfully intense. In my effort to keep her safe at night while camping at various races I would bring her into my tent. Inside my six man dome tent there was plenty of room. As the story goes, I crawled into my tent one night and as per usual, I slept on the left side of the tent and laid my bike on the right side. On a particularly chilly evening in Southeast Michigan I must have been feeling a bit lonely. I awoke to find that I was spooning my bike and I really felt no reason to stop. Would you? Take another look at that picture and tell me you could have let go. That bike was a work of art. It was light. It had a beautiful set of hand built wheels. And it was yellow. Seriously, could that bike have been more perfect? As with all of my bikes it saw several different configurations. Perhaps my favorite was as a single speed. I converted it for the Great Lakes Single Speed Championships and that was the end of my run with gears. I have since that point ridden geared bikes less and less all because of one little yellow rocket ship that climbed like a mountain goat and had handling so fast that it could make you forget your name.

I suppose the bike that followed was not much of a departure. I gave my yellow Homegrown to a victim of bicycle thievery and took advantage of the hole in my collection to full effect. I bought another Homegrown. This time however I was able to purchase one of the older models that had been built in the Yeti factory. Yes it was light. Yes it was fast. Yes I converted it to a single speed. This is the point when I decided that there was simply no need for me to own a geared bike. Another of my bikes went the way of the buffalo to make room for something new.

My first dedicated single speed was a sad little collection of spare parts clapped together on a used Kona Unit frame. Only one year after I built it I parted it out and sold it off. It did serve its purpose. It carried me through two six hour races and proved in my mind that I could handle the torture of endurance racing without the use of gears. Enter my Stumpjumper.

One less 29er my ass

It seems fitting that I have once again found myself aboard a bike bearing an S on the head tube. After today's lengthy history lesson I'm sure you'd love a shake down ride report but that will have to wait. I have had a chance to take her out and tear her up a bit but we're still getting to know each other. I will say that my initial impression of this bike is that it is far and away the fastest 29er I've ridden to date. If you want to see her up close just watch for a silent grey streak on the trails of NC and try to catch me. However,if you want to see her standing still, just look for a big tent with a little Italian standing outside the door shaking her head. Rest assured you will find me inside spooning yet another two wheeled lover.