13 November 2010

Seeing One of My Old Bikes, Perhaps, Again

It was probably a good thing that I was in a hurry.  Why on a Saturday, you ask?  Well, I was running late because I slept late.  

I'd volunteered to be on a panel in a discussion at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.  Silly me.  I gave up a ride on one of the best days we're likely to have for a while for the privilege of doing something I'm not crazy about in one of my least favorite places in New York City, if not the world.

Anyway... After I parked Marianela on 35th Street, just off Fifth Avenue, I turned the corner toward the GC-CUNY entrance.  About the best thing I can say about GC-CUNY--and the only thing that would ever tempt me to go to school there again--is that there are decent bike racks in front of the building.

On one of them was propped and locked a bike that, for a moment, made me--as Kurt Vonnegut said in Breakfast of Champions--woozy with deja vu.  I didn't photograph it, but I found an image of a bike just like it:

It's a Schwinn Continental from 1971 or 1972.  I can date it that closely because of the color:  Schwinn called it "Sierra brown;" it's sometimes referred to as "root beer brown."  The following year, the bike was available in a redder shade of brown.  I don't recall what Schwinn's catalogue copy called it.

As you've probably guessed by now, I had the "Sierra" or "root beer" brown Continental.  I bought it early in my freshman year of high school for the princely sum of $96.  My parents thought it was an absolutely insane amount of money to spend on a bike.  Little did they--or I--know what I was getting into!

The so-called "bike boom" of the Seventies was picking up steam then.  As I recall, I went to four different local shops that June, around the time school let out.  All were sold out and subsequent shipments from Schwinn were already spoken for.  None of the shops thought they could have a bike for me before November.  So imagine my delight when one shop--Michael's, on Route 35 in Hazlet, NJ (next to a drive-in movie theatre)--got a shipment a month earlier than promised.  And, yes, there was one bike on which nobody had dibs.  "As long as you don't mind this color," the shop's owner said, a bit condescendingly.

In my high school--and, apparently, most others--most kids got the Continental in a lemon yellow, or the Varsity in a shade of dark bottle green.  They were fine colors, but I was taken with the brown:  It was more elegant, with a golden-bronze undertone, than the photo in this post depicts.  Without hesitation, I plunked down the cash I'd earned from delivering newspapers.

Even though the bike came a month earlier than promised, I had to wait about three months:  a near-eternity for a kid entering adolescence. Now that I think of it, I waited almost as long for that Schwinn as I did for at least one custom frame I've ordered!  

Schwinn referred to the Varsity and Continental as "lightweight" models, though either one weighed about twice as much as my Mercian road bike, on which I made no effort to save weight.  Those Schwinns even weighed about ten pounds more than Marianela weighed when she was new, and she was even a couple of pounds heavier than her competition, which included the Peugeot U08, Raleigh Grand Prix and Motobecane Nobly.

Yes, the Continental was a tank.  (So was the Varsity.)  I'll bet mine is still out there somewhere.  Maybe it's still being ridden.  Hey, for all I know, the one I saw today might've been mine!


  1. I don't think they had the safety levers back in 71 on the Schwinns. Perhaps the color came back for an encore performance. By the time you'd fallen in love with the Schwinn, I'd read Sloane and bought a "Champion du Monde" for about the same price.

  2. Steve,

    When I bought the Schwinn, I hadn't yet seen Sloane's book. Also, practically everyone in my school and neighborhood had a Schwinn.If I had read Sloane, or been as much a rebel as I fancied myself to be, I probably would have bought the Peugeot or maybe the Grand Prix.