Bicycling by the Book

Rereading The Complete Book of Bicycling by Eugene A. Sloane (New York: Trident 1970)

Keith and Mike in the 1970s

Keith and Mike in the 1970s

On Memorial Day 1971, my son Mike and I drove four miles from our home on the north side of Indianapolis to the Glendale Shopping Center to buy a book on bicycle repair. Mike’s two older sisters were complaining that the Schwinn Varsity girl’s bike a friend had given us was too hard to ride, and I had concluded that wheel bearings needed to be greased.

Having done that kind of work on my own Schwinn when I was in grade school, I figured that with a little help from a repair manual, I ought to be able to do it again. All that the high school girl on duty in the small book department could show us was The Complete Book of Bicycling, a large, cream-colored book that sold for $10.95, three times the price I had expected to pay. “The back part is a repair manual. Look at it as long as you like,” she told us, turning her attention to another customer.

With Mike looking over my shoulder, I thumbed through the front part of the book, surprised that this much could be written about bicycles. The lucidity of the text was augmented by illustrations, charts, and tables. The claim to be a “complete” book about bicycles and how to ride them seemed fully justified.

We bought the book and during the next couple of weeks, Mike and I read with voracious interest. In professorial fashion, I worked my way through from beginning to end, while Mike flopped down on the living room floor by night, reading a chunk here and another there until he knew the book as well as I did.

The author, Eugene A. Sloane, explained why high quality road bicycles were shaped the way they were, with drop handle bars, narrow saddles, multiple gears, and high-pressure, narrow tires. He described the fast-cadence, light-pedal-pressure cycling technique that enables people to bicycle all day and travel a hundred miles within an eight-hour period of time. He referred to leading brands of high qual­ity bicycles, all of them British or European except for the Schwinn Paramount.

In the Indianapolis phone book, only one shop, the All-American Bicycle Shop on West Sixteenth Street in the shadow of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, advertised any of these lines, and that was Raleigh. When we stopped by, the proprietor had only three in stock, two of them already sold.

We could buy the one remaining bicycle, Raleigh’s entry-level ten-speed, white, with a tall twenty-four inch frame. Although he was not yet fourteen, Mike was already close to six feet tall and he could straddle the bicycle handily. We took it home, and while I (five foot nine) rode it a little, we quickly realized that it would be his bicycle, not mine. A few days later, All-American received a new shipment: half a dozen Raleighs, only one of which was my size. Except for size and cost (up five per cent to $105), this twenty-two inch frame set was an exact replica of Mike’s.

With Sloane as our guide, we became adult cyclists, often bicycling together, stretching our trips ever further into rural Indiana. Although Mike, with fast-twitch muscles, rode in a lower gear and with a faster cadence than I, we were evenly matched in speed and endurance and quickly became a congenial and swiftly moving team.

Following the trail that Sloane laid out, we explored other cycling literature, especially Cyclo-Pedia, Gene Portuesi’s mail order catalog and compendium of cycling information and opinion. Sloane alerted us to TOSRV, the Tour of the Scioto River Valley, which was the premier cycling event in the country, and on Mother’s Day weekend 1972 we drove to Columbus, Ohio, to take in this two-day, two-hundred mile event.

To be surrounded by 3,500 adult cyclists, riding a wide range of road bicycles (some obviously very expensive), blew us away. Although we were inexperienced in group riding, we had read extensively on how to do it and had practiced the technique on our rides.

Maintaining a speed of close to twenty miles an hour, we often became the nucleus of pace lines with half a dozen or more cyclists. The weekend confirmed virtually everything that Sloane and Por­tuesi had taught us. Continue reading . . .Bicycling by the Book

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2 Responses to Bicycling by the Book

  1. A. says:

    Gebe Portuesi was a good family friend when he and his wife lived in Cadillac. He acted gruff, but was actually a real teddy bear, and was brilliant about bikes Thanks for the memory!

    • Thank you for your note. Gene was one of the people who shaped our approach to cycling and his ideas continue to guide how I do things. The one time we met him, on our trip around Lake Michigan, we really needed his help and he made a special effort to accommodate us.

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