Old man on an old bike: Doing the Portland Century

Ready to Ride

Ready to Ride

I’ve spent the summer building up strength for the Portland Century, one of the premier bicycle tours in this part of the country. It takes place August 18 and this year follows a new route. Starting at Portland State University in the city’s cultural district, cyclists will ride through the southwestern hinterlands, as far away as Forest Grove.

My plan is to bike the ten miles from home to the start, do the 70-mile version, and then bike back home again. Ninety miles is close enough to the full century to satisfy my desires for a day on the road. The elevation gain of 3,947 feet will add to the feeling that there’s been plenty of good cycling.

I’ve decided to use my 40-year-old Mercian bicycle for the day’s event. It’s a classic English hand-built bicycle, with ornate lugs and beautiful workmanship throughout. The paint scrapes and a few other signs indicate that this machine has had a vigorous life. Twice, it has carried me across the United States, and there have been many other shorter journeys with just the two of us.

Since the Mercian has been languishing in my condo storage area for several months, it’s taking a little effort to get it back into good running order. The tires are fine and everything seems to be working. Later this week, I’ll take it into the shop to have the gears adjusted. The obsolete Campy racing triple with eight-speed cassette has never shifted very well, but I can climb almost anything I come to.

Today, Michael at the bike shop figured out a way to mount a lightweight handlebar bag and he supplied the battery to reenergize an old Cateye wireless computer. Although I feel more road buzz on the Mercian than I do while riding my year-old Davidson titanium, I feel alive on the old bike and look forward to spending a day riding it through a part of the country that I’ve loved since we first came here more than 70 years ago.

Why ride this old bicycle when I have a new bicycle of modern design? Here are some reasons:

Beautiful LugsFor old times sake! We’ve traveled 100,000 miles together, and I hope that we can keep going a while longer.

To show that classic designs and traditional lightweight steel frames are viable ways of building bikes. Although carbon fiber seems to dominate the bicycle shops today, high quality steel bikes continue to provide fine rides. With a little care, these bicycles will last a lifetime.

To help make up my mind whether to have this bicycle restored and equipped to accommodate my aging capabilities. Because the Mercian was modified several years ago, it will never be like it was when I bought it new. It can, however, be retrofitted with components that will be similar to those of early years, and new paint can make it beautiful again.

I don’t intend to hang it on the wall as sculpture, however. If I spend money on the old Mercian, the reason will be to extend its life as a bicycle for serious touring.

There’s little to do about the fact that the bicycle rider has white hair, flabby muscles, and an unsteady walking gait. The Mercian, however, can be made to look and act as though it were young again.

Mercian Bicycle


7 Responses to Old man on an old bike: Doing the Portland Century

  1. Dave says:

    Have a great time. The wide sounds wonderful and 90 is the same as a hundred! Be well!

  2. Dra Martha Castro Médico WMA says:

    Congratulations! Only one thing I disagree with you, respectfully: you do not look old, you do not live old, you have the energy and vitality that many in their 20´s do not have.
    A man/woman who can pedal a century are never old!

  3. Dra Martha Castro Médico WMA says:

    Reblogged this on CYCLING LEARNING AND HEALING THE WORLD and commented:
    A man/woman who can pedal a century are never old!

  4. kevinmayne says:

    As someone restoring a 1963 British classic at a cost far greater than what the bike is worth I can 120% support your sentiments, it will join 3 other steel bikes in my collection.

    My first “adult” road bike was a Mercian, to this day I have no idea why I sold it on, I think it must have been a bit old school tourer even in the 1970s for someone who wanted a proper racer.

    Retro riding is a big movement here in Europe now, lots of appreciation for those classic bikes.

    Enjoy the ride.

    • Thanks for the encouragement. In addition to the Mercian and the Davidson ti bikes that I mention in the blog, I have a ten-year-old Waterford steel bike and an older American made Comotion bike that is now the favorite bike of one of my sons. Its better suited to a rider younger than I, but I have first call on it when I visit him.

  5. Joe Culpepper says:

    I have fond memories of your riding the Mercian on our four tours together 1979-82 in Indiana, & then again last year in the Willamette Valley near the end of Guy’s & my TransAm ride. Sorry you ended up not feeling like you could take it on this ride, but I know you will have many more enjoyable rides with your long time steed! Keep us posted on what you decide about reconditioning it.

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