Old bike, old body, new fondness for light rail

Saturday's Hero

June 08, 1996|By Rob Kasper

THIS IS A GREAT time of year to go bike riding, provided you have the proper equipment. For kids, the proper equipment seems to be a good helmet and a bicycle with multiple gears. For cyclists like me, who chug along on a vintage, one-speed bicycle, the proper equipment seems to be a ticket to ride the Mass Transit Administration's light rail line.

That is how I got home last weekend, with my bike, after a trip from downtown to Lake Roland. The bike trip was about 6 miles, 5.8 of them uphill. For me, it turned out to be a trip too far. At one point on the outing, I heard clicks and pops as we labored up a hill. The clicks were coming from the sophisticated gears of the kids' bikes. The pops were coming from my knees.

I ride this old bike for sentimental reasons. It is a 40-year-old Western Flyer, the bike I rode when I was a kid. Nowadays I don't venture out on bikes that often. And I am too cheap to shell out substantial money for a solid bike. Finally, the bike is so old and battered that virtually nobody is interested in stealing it.

The bike trip began with great hope. The air was crisp and my 11-year-old son and his buddy, Hugh, were anxious to take their bikes out for a workout. Hugh had a brand new bike, a birthday present. My son's bike, which is about a year old, is very similar to Hugh's. But recently my son had grown unhappy with the appearance of his bike. A week or so ago, he began removing the decals from the bike frame. Then he wanted to touch up all the chips in the paint. In other words, he has been trying to get his bike to to look as good as his buddy's brand new one.

Removing the decals required a hair dryer, a jar of peanut butter and some solvent. We used the hair dryer to soften the decals and slowly peel them off the bike frame. Next, acting on a tip from one of my son's biking buddies, we smeared peanut butter, smooth not chunky, on the residue left by the decals. The theory was that the peanut butter would somehow soak up the sticky residue. It seemed plausible. Moreover, smearing the bike with peanut butter was a break from smearing it on bread, or apples. It was fun. Too bad it didn't work.

Steel wool dipped in lacquer thinner worked much better. When the glue was gone, I thought we were finished. But then the kid announced he wanted to touch up the chips in the paint. This required finding paint that matched the bike's post-peanut butter color.

We took the bike to the neighborhood hardware store for a consult with Mickey, the master paint matcher, who told us to go an auto parts store and buy a small bottle of touch-up paint.

It took me about a week to get the touch-up paint. In the meantime, the kid was willing to ride his bike, even though, in his view, it needed body work.

I am not sure why I agreed last Sunday morning to take the kids on the bike trip from Bolton Hill over to Falls Road, up Roland Avenue then down Lake Avenue and over Hollins Avenue to Lake Roland. Maybe it was the good weather. Maybe it was those extra cups of coffee. Maybe it was the feeling I needed a good sweat. I got more sweat than I bargained for.

The first leg of the trip, along Falls Road, was flat and pleasant. Then came the hills. Near the post office in Hampden, at the top of two lung-splitting inclines, I ordered the convoy to a halt. The kids were fine. I was puffing like a steam locomotive. We pressed on, then we stopped some seven hills later, near Roland Park Elementary School, for water. Later, we stopped again, I did, anyway, after we had roared down the very steep Hollins Avenue hill that connects to Lake Roland. For about a half-hour, I sat on a bench and watched the water tumble over the dam. Then we coasted down Lakeside Drive to Falls Road, where we visited a WaWa store to "carbo load." That is cyclist talk for eating chips, candy bars and drinking sodas.

The kids were feeling a sense of accomplishment and a considerable sugar rush. I was thinking how, in the name of Schwinn, were we going to get home? Call a cab? Too costly. Call the wife? Too embarrassing.

Then I thought of the light rail, our taxpayer-supported people mover. There was a stop, the Falls Road station, a few hundred, mostly flat, yards away. Quickly I ordered the kids to give me all their money. We had $4.25 among the three of us, enough for three one-way tickets with 20 cents to spare. I had an anxious moment when the ticket machine refused to take one of my crumpled $1 bills. But the kids, past masters of feeding soiled dollar bills into vending machines, took over the operation. Soon the machine spit out a ticket.

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