31 January 2013

What They Didn't Have

From Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid

More than three decades ago, Hal Ruzal, the Mercian maven and mechanic par excellence of Bicycle Habitat, rode his bicycle across the United States for the first (!) time.  

A friend who accompanied him had several flats and was down to his last inner tubes when they were in Kansas.   Now, I've never been to Kansas, but I don't imagine that, even today, it's as easy to find some bike items there as it is in, say, Portland, Minneapolis or Boston.  However, in those days, according to Hal, "there wasn't a single Presta valve tube in the entire state of Kansas."

He can tell a good story, but I don't think he was exaggerating. I don't think the very first shop in which I worked--in New Jersey--had Presta valve tubes, either. For that matter, I wouldn't be surprised to know that most shops in the Garden State circa 1975 didn't have them.

If they didn't have Presta valves,  it meant they didn't have sew-up tires, and probably didn't have the high-pressure clinchers (like the Michelin Elan) that were just starting to become available around then--or the new rims Mavic and Rigida were making for use with them.  

If you were in a rural area, it could even be difficult to find things like toe clips and straps. (The only clipless pedal available then was the Cinelli M-71, a.k.a. "The Suicide Pedal.) Around that time, John Rakowski, who rode his bicycle around the world, ordered the Karrimor panniers and handlebar bags he used directly from the manufacturer in England:  Very few shops carried good touring gear, and supplies were sporadic, to put it mildly.

Those times were probably the heyday of mail-order shops.  Sometimes the shops' proprietors (who were almost invariably the buyers, if their wives weren't) didn't even know where to find high-quality bike items.  Or, if they could find a source, the prices would be exorbitant because they were ordering only one, and paying the full shipping costs.

The lightest bike sold in the first shop in which I worked was the Raleigh Super Course.  

Raleigh Super Course, in the 1975 catalogue.

It was a pretty bike, I thought, especially in that shade of candy-apple red. (The green wasn't bad, either.)  But I would soon find myself riding a bike that, in almost every way, exceeded that one.  I didn't get it in that first shop in which I worked.  I couldn't have.


  1. Hi, I'm from Kansas and I can tell you with certainty we did have presta valves and sew-up's at our local bike store. Granted there were not many of them...but if your friend was west of about Manhattan, KS he was definitely SOL til he hit Denver.

    Most of us stuck to schraeder and clinchers as pumps were plentiful and with the dreaded goatsheads (thorns) plentiful it did not take fans of sew-ups to move back to clinchers. Was not uncommon to ride with tubes having a dozen or more patched on them.

  2. Anon--I didn't mean to pick on Kansas. I'm sure that there are shops that have PVs, and that the local shops do the best they can for the markets they have. My friend described a situation he encountered more than 30 years ago, when a lot of shops even in places like New York City didn't have presta valve tubes!

  3. Sure I still have some Michelin Elans on one of the old bikes...

  4. Coline--They were great tires. I'm sure they still are.