Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

20 December 2011

Workin' It

Some bikes look right only when they've got half of their paint missing and look beat right down to their inner tubes.

Well, all right, I didn't see the inner tubes on this one.  But I imagine that they have, if nothing else, the feel and scent of a pair of flip-flops swished and slogged through curbside puddles during a summer rainstorm.

But, really, can you imagine this bike--from Worksman Cycles--new?  The paint job may have been rather attractive, if in a utilitarian sort of way.  Somehow, though, it wouldn't have looked right.

I must say that in my more than three decades of cycling, I've seen only one "virgin" Worksman.  One shop in which I worked was an official Worksman dealer.  Highland Park Cyclery did a brisk business inside a ramshackle building (which was torn down after HPC moved to fancier digs) at the foot of a commercial strip across the river from the college (Rutgers) I attended as an undergraduate.  Some of the stores and restaurants offered deliveries, some of which they made on bikes.  Those shops and restaurants already had their delivery bikes--Worksmans, mostly--before I started working at HPC.

So it was something of a surprise--to me, anyway--when I found myself assembling a brand-new Worksman.  I didn't mind that:  Although it wasn't a bike I'd've bought for myself, it was easy to work on.  Plus, one could not deny that it was suited about as well as any product could be to its purpose.

What surprised me, though, was that it wasn't a business that bought one.  Rather, he was--as I recall--a married middle-aged man who ran a "consulting business" from his home.  He never consulted me about what his business consulted on, but he seemed prosperous and his family harmonious.  

He said he'd wanted his Worksman to use as his "human powered station wagon."  Later, I saw him hauling groceries, building supplies, books, and even furniture on it.  Another thing I find interesting, in retrospect, was that he was looking to become less dependent on his car (which he sold not long after buying the Worksman) at a time when gasoline prices were falling, at least relative to what they were in the days around the Iran Hostage Crisis.

Although I saw that man on his Worksman nearly every day, it didn't seem to wear much.  Granted, Highland Park wasn't as harsh an environment as New York or other urban zones for a bike.  Plus, I'm sure he didn't subject it to the same kind of abuse as most delivery people did to theirs. 

Apparently, in spite of the fact that the bikes never seem to die, there's enough of a market for new ones that the company is thriving, and did even during the leanest of times in the American bike market, and before the current vogue for "cruisers".  I guess that disproves the notion that if a product is so well-made that it never needs replacement, the company making it will lose sales and stop making it, or even go out of business.  (Some old-timers claim that was the story of Weinmann concave rims and Sun Tour V-GT derailleurs.) In any event, the bikes are being made in the Ozone Park area of Queens, NY, about seven miles from my apartment and just off the route of a few of my regular rides. 

Afterword:  I was looking up Highland Park Cyclery.  Apparently, they've moved up the road into neighboring Edison and have renamed themselves Joyful Cycles, in a reference to 1 Thessolonians 5:16-18.  Ironically, Frank, who owned HPC while I worked there, and his wife Wendy were about as antithetical to religious fundamentalism as any two people could be!


  1. Joy they may be, but they don't appear to favor working bikes any more. Not even in the "other" category.

  2. Steve: I looked at some online comments about the shop, and they weren't very favorable. Although I haven't been in the shop in years, I was a bit sad to read those comments. I might have been ornery, and Frank might have been something of a surly hippie, but no one ever accused us of charging too much, doing poor work or not standing behind anything we did or sold.

  3. As the Worksman cycle truck I purchased was second-hand, I have no idea how the original paint looked on it. The person I bought it from did a restoration job on it and repainted it black, with spraypaint. The paint has held up fairly good a year later, though I really should touch it up.

    I'm glad that Worksman is still going, and now going stronger than before. I just wish there were more mid-range American bicycle companies left. Bowery Lane looks promising, have you seen any in the field?

  4. I have been disabled and wanted to get back on a bike. I dusted off my Made-in-Waterloo gunmetal gray TREK floor-model that I had bought from Frank's in 1985. My friend Paul Miller and I biked all over Spain and a bit of France for three months on that bike. We rode from Madrid, through La Mancha to Alicante, to Barcelona and La Costa Brava, and then through the Pyrénées (or in Catalan: Pirineus),into Basque Country, San Sebastian, and on to Lyon and Paris. I rode that bike almost everyday for the next 7 years. I even road it through the snow. Lately, and sadly, it has been gathering dust. My friend Ross and his wife Ann Marie have been encouraging me to get back on ANY bike. He took the old TREK, cleaned it up, installed a new seat and handlebar tape (in stunning white) and I took my first ride today. I have very fond memories of making that purchase at Frank's. Where is he today? Colleen Foy

  5. Coleen--I'm sorry to hear about your disability and admire both the riding you've done and your current wish to get back on your bike.

    You bought your Trek two years after I stopped working at HPC. By then, I'd moved, but I used to come into the shop from time to time to see Frank, Wendy and "the old gang." So we may have crossed paths.

    Frank and Wendy moved to British Columbia, Canada (near Vancouver). They have a shop called Sun Coast Cycles. I've never been out that way. However, knowing Frank, I'd bet that it's a fine shop.

  6. A friend envious of some of my tours decided to do it the "easy" way by getting a really heavy old fashioned grocery shop delivery bike with huge iron basket holder on the front in which to just toss all his belongings. His 500 mile ride home ended after two hellish days and sixty miles when the bike was abandoned!

  7. Your friend tried a 500 mile ride on a bike like that? He must have been even more delusional than I've ever been!