Jim Freim, Ph.D.
All rights reserved, 2015
I’ve been in a monogamous relationship, well, most of my life. I found my true love at the age of nine. My parents sent me to the garage for some inane task like dumping the trash. But what I found leaning proudly against the wall was a new bicycle, my birthday gift. The late afternoon sunlight, coming through the open door, reflected off the brilliant red frame like sparkling jewels the TV Pirates always seem to find. I stood, mouth agape, examining her beauty. Handlebar pull brakes, gleaming silver fenders, Schwinn insignia, and a gear shift lever on the handlebar. I stared at the beauty, my tongue stuck in the back of my throat, and the room was as quiet as a confessional. I jumped when my Mom said, “It’s yours.”
My Dad explained the three speed, Stormy Archer rear hub and showed me how to shift gears. When I went for a spin around the block, my heart sounded like my bike, click, click, click. During that five-minute ride, I fell in love. Some things a nine-year-old never tells his parents and naming my bicycle, Miss Stormy, fit that category. Days passed before I realized that my Dad had mispronounced Sturmey Archer. Oh well, she was still Miss Stormy to me.
Dad hung my one speed beach cruiser upside down on a rafter in the garage. I glanced up once or twice during the first month of being with Miss Stormy. A year passed before I noticed the cruiser was gone. I did miss laying rubber by jamming its coaster brake and missed pushing the horn button even if I did have to replace the batteries.
The new bike came with a little tinker bell on the handlebars. Either the salesman was British or he convinced my parents that I would need such a weenie alarm device. After three months, when the parents quit looking at the bike, I ripped off that bell. I suffered enough ridicule from my friends.
Miss Stormy proved to be steady and reliable – as all therapists will tell you – a great start to a long-term relationship. As a schoolboy delivering hundreds, no thousands of issues of the Fort Worth Press, our love grew. I’d ride with a canvas bag, chock full of newspapers, slung over my right shoulder and a similar bag over my left. With comparable weights on each side, I could ride with no hands on the handlebars. Roll the paper, rubber band it, and toss. If the people didn’t mind, I would ride across their lawn so I was closer to the porch. Throwing a heavy, Sunday newspaper ten to twenty feet is definitely an art. I took a few headers learning that skill. To the front fork I attached an odometer driven by a small pin screwed to a spoke. We pedaled two to three thousand miles each year throwing, tossing, and collecting money. I only wished that she would come the way Trigger came to Roy when he whistled!
After many miles, Miss Stormy started to slip in first gear. I was afraid that I had ruined her and destroyed her reputation. But my Dad took the bicycle to a shop where the mechanic replaced a part called the ‘low gear pawl’. My Dad grinned and looked amused until the shop owner explained the part was spelled with a “p” and not a “b”. The man had a five speed Sturmey Archer bike for sale and said he had ridden a seven-speed model when in England. I craved that five-speed bike for weeks, even when I was riding Miss Stormy. I was hoping that she did not know that I was scheming of ways to buy the five speed. But the dream shattered when Dad said no in the manner that I knew meant no. And Miss Stormy forgave me for my childish lust.
In high school, I continued to deliver papers and to ride to school. But to fit in and be part of the clique, I tossed the fenders and rack off the bridge. Like everyone else, I carried my books in a backpack!
Finally, a mechanic showed me how to replace the pawls. I became proficient at the operation and Miss Stormy never felt any pain.
In college our relationship matured to acceptance. We spoke very little, but were comfortable with each other. I always treated her gently, but she was dismayed to be left for hours under a tree, beside a building, or thrown on the ground. She was always waiting when I returned. A friend reassured me, “Don’t worry, no one will steal that bike.”
In graduate school in Texas, she continued to provide transportation to classes. But Miss Stormy got her taste of long distance travel during a 180-mile ride from Austin to Padre Island. Since my buddies rode ‘ten speeds’, they couldn’t or wouldn’t carry gear. In that pre-energy drink era, we agreed on tea, heavily sweetened to provide calories. I gave Miss Stormy a new rear rack and she became a beast of burden. In that sweltering August furnace, the two-gallon jug of tea was strapped to her rump. We had plenty to drink, but my buddies complained for two days, “doesn’t that damn clicking drive you crazy?” Strange, I found the sound reassuring. And I kept replacing the pawls.
As a professor at the University of Oklahoma, love faded but she became my trusted friend. We rode to school and she lived in my office. I heard whispers about an eccentric professor, but I never figured out who was the nut case..
I started running during my second year of teaching. Several of my fellow junior professors were runners and ‘bicycle riders’. They encouraged me to enter a bike race.
I refused. “Me. I just started running. Besides, I need to wash my cat. I’ve got too many papers to grade. I need to schmooze the Dean.”
About the third request, I went to watch. The loop race around the business district was exciting. In no way did the beer at the local watering hole influence me, but apparently, I lost a bet and was required to participate in something called an ‘all comers’ race. I showed up a little late to find a few hundred riders congregated near the start line. I found my friends near the rear of the pack. They were shaking their heads and pointing when they saw me pushing Miss Stormy.
“Don’t you have another bike?” they asked.
I thought, you mean people have more than one bicycle? “Well, no.” Then I noticed the other bikes, ten speeds or better. I drew the friendship line in the sand when they and every other competitor snickered at my bike and my white Converse high tops. No snickers when I picked up the third place award. My smile was as wide as my handlebars. I had crossed a threshold and the excitement was addictive.
Afterwards, at the pub, my professor ‘friends’ barraged me. “You need a new bicycle. Think of what you could do. You could have won the race!” After heaps of ego massaging and flattery, I secretly agreed. I wondered if I could have won and was torn between loyalty and excitement. But, I couldn’t abandon my first love. Or could I? Heck, Miss Stormy had been in my life even before I took Christy to the movies in the fifth grade!
With guilt of abandoning a loved one, I looked at new bikes. I felt the same excitement as if I was nine again. I wanted, but did I need a new bike? Indeed, Miss Stormy looked ancient and I felt shameful for chasing after a younger model. Maybe a spruce up, new make up, or better wheels would put new life back into the old gal. My passion for her would not die. I was devoted to her in the same degree that she had been faithful to me for over twenty years of cycling. And I kept replacing the pawls.
Against howls of derision and laughter from my friends, I performed surgery. Drop style handlebars and a gloss black paint job made Miss Stormy look modern. But the main change was her motor. In the front, I installed two chain rings with a derailleur and in the rear, two cogs with a derailleur. Two gears in the back. Two gears in the front. With a three-speed hub, she became, voila, a twelve speed. 12 gears!
She loved her sexy French components and insisted on being addressed as Mademoiselle Stor-mé, with a definite accent on the last e. She hadn’t lost any weight, but she was as frisky as Jack Russell terrier.
Although ancient in bicycle life times, she had a new outlook on life. The makeover was infectious; I was bitten and smitten with riding, doing several races and centuries. I became proficient at sizing up hills and knowing what final gear ratio I would need at the top. I would never switch the derailleurs during a hill climb because that process was slow and cumbersome compared to clicking the Sturmey Archer lever. Mademoiselle Stor-mé’s inherent wickedness was revealed halfway up a hill. With no hesitation and without moving my hands from the handlebars, I popped the three-speed gear lever from high to second and zoomed away. Nearing the top, I popped it again to the lowest gear and keep up my cadence. Quick, vicious, and decisive was my blast to the top. My friends quit laughing.
But my athletic road ahead included ultra, ultra distance triathlons with bike segments of 224 to 260 miles sandwiched between swims of 6 miles and runs of 52 miles. And 24-hour bike races. My mentor, a bicycle shop owner and mechanic extraordinaré, refused to help me if I rode ‘that Schwinn’. He couldn’t convince me; I planned to ride ‘that Schwinn’ until Sturmey Archer quit making pawls.
But I can be bribed. He gave me a new aluminum bicycle. I had been loyal, but I’d rather drive a new Porsche that my 1959 Beetle. Although Miss Vitus became the new love, Mademoiselle graciously accepted our threesome. No divorce, we just all lived together. Like a bigamist, I became a bikalist, living with two bicycles.
My approaching ordeals required training beyond what I had ever done – hours and hours in the saddle. If your boss made you ride 400 miles a week, you’d quit in a heartbeat. And Mademoiselle Stor-mé continued to be an integral part. I figured it was better to train heavy and race light. So I rode hundreds of training miles with my French woman.
I thanked her and kissed her seat (excuse me, saddle) goodbye as I left for my first ultra distance triathlon, The Double Ironman in Huntsville Alabama on Labor Day. Mademoiselle taught me well. On Miss Vitus, I won the race overall and averaged 20 miles per hour for the bike segment. The next test, the Ultraman on the Big Island of Hawaii had a 260-mile bike segment, held on a steamy day where a hot Turkish towel would have been soothing. I had the fastest bike split and won the race overall. In the race, a very steep descent out of the Kohala Mountains drops you into the town of Hawi. With a Japanese news crew in convertible mustang on my tail, I was using the whole road at a speed of 55 to 60 mph and rounding a curve on the wrong side of the road. Those skinny tires on Miss Vitus came within inches of clipping the soft shoulder. A certain death. Instead, I imagined I was balancing on Miss Stormy while I threw a newspaper, regained my confidence, and made the corner.
In the Ironbutt 24-hour race, I got off the bike at 23 hours. I had ridden 435 miles, lapped the field, and won the race.
I won these races after the age of 40 and I learned everything from the hands of my French maiden, my devoted Mademoiselle, Miss Stor-mé .
Do you think we could arrange a three-speed, Sturmey Archer hub division in the Tour de France? Sigh. I wonder if I can her back from my grandson?