As I may have mentioned before, I recently learned that the bicycle I rode as a boy was still in our family, somewhere in my grandmother's basement in New Jersey. I decided to tack a personal day on to a business trip to New York, and so here I am, standing in a dark basement crammed with fifty years' of junk from the pack rats in our family. After some searching, I've unearthed my old Peugeot.
I rode this when we lived in Vancouver, Canada, which would have been around 1970. The bike was likely bought in Canada, and may have been new, or maybe not, as we were pretty poor. Dad was a grad student on a post doc at the University. Mom was not in the picture. I was a 7 y/o boy, mostly a latchkey kid, entertaining myself with Star Trek re-runs, Legos, building plastic models, blowing those up in the vacant lot with my friends, and riding all over the city on my bike. I remember pedaling into downtown Vancouver to visit a shop that sold Hot Wheels. Perhaps on that trip, I also remember shoplifting a Hot Wheel, and then being so ashamed by my deed that I never stole anything ever again.
When we were kids, bikes were our magic carpets. How else could a little kid travel for miles, explore distant lands, experience speed, all far from his parent who in any case wasn't coming home until late that night? Of course, my friends' bikes were StingRays and they jumped and skidded them all over the dirt lots, while I watched glumly from my hopelessly uncool French ten-speed.
It didn't help that the bike was way too big for me. At first, I couldn't even stand over it, much less mount or dismount. I still remember how my dad taught me to ride. We went to the top of a hill in a local park. He placed me on the bike, gave me a push, and set me rolling down a winding asphalt path. My instructions were to coast down the path until it was about to end, then steer off onto the grass and JUMP OFF. Which I did, faithfully, bike and boy tumbling amidst a cloud of grass and dirt. Again and again.
How this taught me to ride, I have no idea, but somehow it did, and even though I still couldn't stand over my bike, I rode it everywhere for three years. Then we moved. The bike was shipped across the continent, and ended up in this basement, minus pedals and seat. Here it has stayed, while a forest of old boxes, scrap wood, discarded pipe, and household junk grew up around it.
It is a boy's bike, basically a shrunken UO-8. From some brief browsing, I think it might be a UJ-10, which was the larger of Peugeot's two juvenile models. But it could be a G-50, I am not sure.
Before leaving home, I measured my son's inseam at 28.5". My old bike has a seat tube C-T-C of 19". The cranks are miniature things, skinny and about 150 mm center to center. So with the seat set to give him about 29" from seat top to pedal at 6 o'clock, there will be about 2" of seat post showing. That sounds fine to me.
So, I could bring my old bike home for my son to ride. Should I?
He needs a new bike, as he's outgrown his current one. He thinks his sister's UO-8 is the coolest thing. The drop bars are "like Tron". Old French ten-speeds are not uncool, in my son's world - they are very cool indeed.
But, and there is always a but . . .
This bike isn't a museum piece that has emerged from its long slumber in NOS condition. I must have ridden it hard and put it away wet. The paint has a lot of chips and a couple flakes. The leather seat is missing, and the seatpost is of bizarrely small diameter. Not sure where I will find a clamp to fit it. All the cables are toast. It needs a thorough cleaning. I'll have to eventually relace the wheels with aluminium rims. Plus the usual deep cleaning, relubing, and whatever else turns up.
At the end of the day, getting my old bike packed up, shipped home to Portland, and put back into good riding condition will probably cost, oh, $200 to $300.
And what does the bike think about it? I can't tell. It is deeply asleep, hasn't woken, isn't speaking to me. Maybe it wants to have another boy excitedly pumping its pedals and leaning through the rushing curves. Or maybe it is tired and just wants to moulder away in this dark basement. I'm not sure.
What say you? Leave this old bike to sleep in my memories of distant youth? Or give it a second life in the light and sun?