Legs of steel
I’m in the worst shape of my life. It’s not that I’m heavy; I’m at a healthy weight for my height. The problem is that I have little stamina and poor energy. Walking up a few flights of stairs leaves my heart pounding.
But I just hate to exercise. Really, I hate doing physical things when the only point of it is to work my body. I’ve started any number of workout plans over the past 20 years only to quit them all in boredom and apathy. To the extent I’ve ever been in decent physical shape it’s been because something I was doing for pleasure or for pay kept me moving.
Dad bought me a beat-up 20-inch Schwinn secondhand when I was seven, and I took to riding it like I was born on the seat. That’s quite remarkable given how miserably I failed to take to any other physical endeavor – I’m not just unathletic, I’m anti-athletic. To this day I can’t throw or catch a ball worth a damn! But I liked to ride the bike.
I outgrew a 20-inch bike by the time I was 12, so I saved my money and bought a brand new 26-inch bike, a maroon AMF Roadmaster 3-speed. It wasn’t much, but it was the best I could afford. It’s behind my friend’s 10-speed in this photo.
I lived on that bike. I rode all over the south side of South Bend on that springy maroon vinyl seat with a feeling of freedom and autonomy beyond anything I’d known. So I rode every day the weather cooperated, riding to the store or to visit friends or just exploring the streets of my hometown. I figure I put 10,000 miles on that bike before I graduated high school.
You have to understand that I was a scrawny geek, six feet tall and 135 pounds, always afraid of a good stiff breeze. But all that riding gave me legs of steel. Scrawny or not, I was in decent shape.
I couldn’t take my bike to college, but after graduation I moved it to my Terre Haute home and rode it for another five years. The mountain-bike craze had begun, and everybody I encountered on the road had one, so I started to feel silly riding my childhood 3-speed. So I sold it and bought a new red Schwinn mountain bike. It was so light! It had eighteen speeds! I could go so fast on it! I started to have delusions about training for bike races. But a few miles into every ride my crotch went numb. Other riders, nodding knowingly, told me to buy a gel seat and padded riding shorts. It helped, but didn’t solve, the problem; and besides, I looked goofy in spandex. And long rides would make the space between my shoulder blades ache. I got advice to adjust the seat and the handlebars, but I never entirely escaped the pain. The fun was going out of riding.
After I married I wanted to get out and ride, but with house and family it was hard to make it happen. I managed to ride most mornings before work one summer, but having only thirty minutes for the ride limited me too much and robbed most of the pleasure from it. After that, my bike collected dust in the garage.
After my divorce, the Schwinn came back to me so badly damaged that the repairs would cost more than I paid for it new, so I put it in a dumpster. My post-divorce finances being what they were I searched Craigslist for a used bike. I was excited to find a decent Trek mountain bike for cheap that was even more lithe and agile than my ill-fated Schwinn. But the numbness and shoulder pain were still a problem, and my schedule was still pretty full, and I never got back in the groove. For most of the past two years, I’ve put maybe twenty miles on the bike, all of it while riding around the block with my kids.
My 12-year-old son has outgrown his little 20-inch bike, so when spring arrived I started looking on Craigslist for a bigger bike for him. Instead, I found something that really appealed to me.
This is a 1986 Schwinn Collegiate, a basic 3-speed bike. I bought it for a pittance. I’ve been out on it a dozen times just riding around, exploring the neighborhoods near my home. Its springy seat means no crotch numbness. While I haven’t taken a super long ride on it yet, its upright riding position has kept me comfortable so far. I have really been enjoying just tearing around the streets of old suburbia.
I wonder how long before I have my legs of steel back!
A photo in a post I wrote about my Terre Haute apartment has a picture with that old 3-speed in the background.