Pack Mule

town bikeNot only do different bicycles have different road feels, the intended mission affects the ride qualities as well. Although you are still on a machine with two wheels, your mindset imparts a particular flavor to the overall experience.

I first got into riding as an adult in my late twenties. I rode recreationally, then got into racing, which means lots of training rides.

On a training ride, it’s all about how your body is feeling. Are the legs flat or punchy? Do I have the deep base that lets me breath steadily even as I up the wattage? Should I attack this hill?

At the time, I lived in the city, and eventually I came into possession of a bike suitable for commuting. Riding to work was different than riding to train. And it isn’t just the bicycle or the clothing.

Riding to work is more about the morning air, about getting into the groove of the city’s traffic beats. It’s noting signposts along the daily route, the centered feeling of arriving under my own power, free from the constraints of crowded subways or slow buses.

I got a deep satisfaction riding to work every day, ticking off the various sections of the city from my starting point at Amsterdam and 106—the Central Park loop, the dip back into traffic and the rush downtown, cutting across Bleeker (On Bleeker after a snowstorm one day, I thought my big tires could take me through a high snow patch. I fell, landing in front of a slow-moving NYPD patrol car. A  kitchen helper who had been standing in the doorway of a restaurant came over and offered me a big cloth napkin as I got to my feet, inviting me inside to clean up. Already late for work, I politely declined his hospitality, brushed the snow from my clothes, and hopped back on the bike) and onto 7th, across Canal and arriving at my office on Varick Street.

These days my non-recreational riding mostly consists of shopping in town for groceries, but in the summer I get to ride a few miles out to Stonykill farm to pick up my CSA share every Friday. And now I also belong to a fruit share. The pickup is at the same location, every other Monday. These trips give me a feeling of purposefulness that changes the tenor of my ride. It’s similar to the commuting feeling, but  different enough to be a distinct experience—maybe the difference between a good root beer and a good cream soda. It might have something to do with arriving empty and returning full, that sometimes useful feeling of being a pack mule.

When I was operating the Iron Fish, I moved a decent number of vintage bicycles. One day I traded a customer a Schwinn Suburban for this Trek 730 and some cash. I found out later the 730 was a popular model with touring companies. A hybrid with 700c fat tire clearance, a triple compact crank, cantilever brakes, fender eyelets and front and rear rack braze-ons, it made for a great back country tourer. Mine is an early model, lugged steel with a unicrown fork.

I converted it into a city bike using an upright stem, Albatross bars, bar-end shifters, cork grips and a basket from Rivendell, fenders, a dynamo light system and shopping panniers from Velo-Orange, tires and brake levers from the new bike shop in town, and the Brooks B17 saddle from that old Manhattan commuter. I sprayed over the lime-green Trek decals and painted the fenders to look like a classic European town bike.

Today was the perfect September day in the Hudson Valley to head over to the farm and pick up this week’s offering, a bag of Cox’s Orange Pippins, for me and Steph and our friend Kate, who is splitting a share with us. On the way back, I stopped to visit another friend, Nancy. She was out, but I chatted for a bit with her daughter-in-law. When I got home, I put the apples in a compote, but not the one featured here a few weeks ago. Although you can never have too many bikes, if I write about another compote tomorrow, that will be a challenge.

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