It was some time before we scared up the money for a replacement, which was a wildly cool orange Columbia with built-in headlights that looked like a streamlined gas tank, cool chromed fenders and a rear rack. Like its pummeled predecessor, it was a single speed with a coaster brake. By then other kids in the neighborhood were getting coveted "English bikes," internally geared three-speeds with thumb-lever shifters and handbrakes that occasionally I'd get the treat of riding. My family wasn't in a position to upgrade, so it was several years of whining before I was able to finally convince my parents that I was actually facing complete ostracization because of my lack of a ten-speed, which by the time I was 14 had become the gold standard of personal transportation. Two rings in front, five gears in the back, shift levers on the down tube or the handlebar stem; we all had to have one. Once the ten-speed took over the culture, the only other bike cool enough to hang was the Schwinn Sting-Ray. My first one was a very cheap bike called an Iverson, which I believe was a Kmart special. Cheap, cheap, cheap, and its terrible ride didn't quell my whining for long. I think it was only a couple of years before I was able to convince my parents that I needed a better bike, and I can only imagine the sales job I must have done, because if it had both wheels it sure would have been hard to convince my parents that it wasn't good enough
But I prevailed, and I got a new bike. From a bike store (Plane Boys), not a toy store. And it was on this bike, with its gum-walled 27" tires, its cheap Suntour derailleur, Dia-Compe center-pull brakes and that outrageously angled fork, that I learned everything I know about bikes. I learned to really ride, to dismantle axles and replace ball bearings, and how to take a tuning fork to a rim to true it. I rode it for three or four years, all over the place, nearly every day. I rode it into the hills of Glenville, through the streets of Schenectady, out into the horse pasture that used to be Clifton Park, and did it all in sneakers and cut-offs (and in fact my range was quite limited by wet feet and wedgies). This bike took me everywhere and taught me an awful lot. Nearly every meaningful conversation I had with my friends, those kinds of friends you only have when you're 15, I had while describing a slow circle around an intersection under a street light, atop my trusty bicycle.
I took my faithful machine to college with me, where it was stolen within the first couple of weeks. Despite all the memories and the trauma, somehow I have not, for years, been able to recall the name of the bike. I can remember every other bike I've ever owned, where I was when I heard songs that I absolutely hate, where my pet turtles are buried . . . but not for my life could I remember the name of that bike.
And then, thanks to the magical Internet, it comes rushing back to me. Some vintage bike blog mentioned the brand, which was Ross, and the light went off, and with a couple of clicks, there it was. The very bike. Absolutely in every way precisely the same bike. The Ross Professional Gran Tour. And honestly, seeing that picture, I was flooded with memories, touched in a way I could never have expected. Strong memories of sitting on the front sidewalk, my tiny Clear Creek Bike Book propped open with a rock, learning how to tear down a bottom bracket (with a chipped screwdriver and another rock as my available tools), of packing lunch in a knapsack and riding up into the Glenville hills, of competing with the other guys to see who could get across the village the fastest, or, sometimes, the slowest.
So there it is. My Rosebud. My Rossbud.