The Professor and the long-gone bicycle

[the Crescent catalog cover of The Young Professor's bicycle]

[this is not The Professor on a bicycle but it is the actual Crescent catalog of his first good bicycle]

The Young Professor’s first good road bike—and by that he means something that he could ride fast and for long periods of time—was from Sweden. It was a Crescent, bought in 1974, and it was orange with black-and-white graphics. It didn’t just get The Young Professor around Canton, the small Connecticut town he grew up in, it got him extensively around the 10-or-so towns within a 20-mile radius of his home; it was a tool of social interaction; a way to be free of parents and liberated from peers; it was the first bike he did a century ride on [to Northampton, MA]. But once The Young Professor moved to Boston [in the shadow of Fenway Park], he sold it so he could get his next bike. Back then, dollars were tight and he couldn’t have two. As essential as that bike was to The Young Professor’s identity, it was part of the process of trying to move up in life. Sadly, there are no pictures of that bike for the same reason that there are barely any photo’s of The Young Professor from back then: there was an approximately 10-year period [from age 13 to 24] when The Young Professor was almost never photographed [but that’s a story for another time].

This particular Crescent was a lower-price/higher-end bike: the requisite Reynolds 531 DB frame, almost all the top Campagnolo components [Campy derailleurs, drop-outs, Tipo hubs, Nuovo seatpost]; Cinelli stem and handlebars; leather Brooks® seat; and a seat-tube-mounted Silca® pump. Years before the Crescent, in junior-high school, The Young Professor rode a purple metal-flake Schwinn 10-speed of about 40lbs [that bike was an anchor on any sort of hill; its coefficient of friction seemed to be >1.0 in defiance of the laws of physics; and, it had to have been designed by someone who wasn’t a rider, or by a dedicated-to-not-riding team]. When The Young Professor transitioned into high school, he moved up to toe clips and a 28-lb yellow AC Sutter bike from France that notably managed to stay together [and its components mostly functional] for the duration of a 3+week, real-world-torture-test bike trip [with a good hometown buddy who had at least been out-of-state before, unlike The Young Professor] through Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Words like “rutted,” “agonizingly steep,” “sore back,” “suffering” and “headwind” had had no real meaning in The Young Professor’s life until that trip, and then they became its defining terms.

Toward the end of high school, The Young Professor had started work at a flower and plant mart in the next town over. Picture 16 or so greenhouses with a retail front; not domestic-scaled greenhouses but the commercial kind that you can’t see the end of when you walk inside. Working after school and all-day Saturday, The Young Professor usually put in about 20 hours/week of labor, the hard kind. Being paid minimum wage [minus extracted taxes] meant earning a little over $40 a week [or $2-and-change an hour]. The Professor mentions these details specifically because he saved for almost a year to accrue the $580 to pay for the Crescent. The Professor remembers paying all-cash, in 20’s, and having the distinct sensation that he’d never seen that much money in one place before.

But it quickly became apparent that it was worth it. That was one elegant machine. Unlike every other bicycle of the day [with their 52-tooth front chain rings], this one came with a massive 54-toother. With its chain taut and riding up on that big front ring, it had a direct-drive feel. To The Young Professor, it felt like a press-and-go machine, just like the sensation that my classmate GaryB got from his Camaro [and shared with his passengers]. But on the bike, what the experience might have lacked in horsepower, sound and fury, it more than made up for in its intimacy with the road and weather, in the sensation it offered of being integrated with the machinery of the bicycle [as The Young Professor had never felt before], and in its complete and utter 1970s-era eco-simplicity of means.

Although The Professor has been blessed to ride some great bikes over the years—a Schwinn Paramount, Raleigh Pro, Richard Sachs custom and a Klein Quantum Pro—none of them has had the engaged intensity or experiential mojo of that Crescent. To him, losing that bike was like the proverbial Chick Who Got Away, the one who left you gasping in your bedroom as she headed for the airport and back to Firenze; it was like the concert where [ticket in hand] you decided not to go at the last minute so you could study[!] in college[!!] on a September weekend night[!!!] only to find out a few months later that the artist [Bob Marley] had tragically died; it was like the totally sorted gray-market coupe that your buddy Carter found in Munich, shipped, and federalized for you but you lamely sold a couple of years later because you couldn’t keep it in Manhattan or even an Amtrak-ride away in Hartford. The Young Professor, who woulda-shoulda-coulda kept that Crescent [but didn’t], and now The Professor himself, has had to own that regret for decades; of all of the possible bikes out there, it’s the one that he still hopes to find and have restored. And that’s why they call me The Professor.

© 2014

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