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:
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.