C'est la Vespa
As you noticed the bicycle bug has once again bitten me. Time for a more family oriented machine. Something with an easy upright riding position. Something to toodle around the neighborhood on. Or take leisurely long rides on one of these new fangled converted asphalted train beds. Seems everyone pedaling looks happy when I ride or drive past. I used to ride all the time. I've been missing it.
Back in Europe certain bikes have been a mainstay for generations. Known as commuter or utility bicycles, they offer very upright seating positions and usually some sort of carrying capacity. They wear long fenders, real purpose built mudguards. The Dutch versions of the design actually became known simply as the Dutch bicycle. On one hand Dutch bikes last forever. Usable heirlooms. And they weigh as much too. On another, you can't find replacement tires for them without ordering a set from across the pond. Somehow though, they look weirdly right.
Not to say that other European countries didn't create beautiful machines, they did. But here in the U.S. these seem to be the boutique bikes. Collectors look for them, hence the prices rise. And parts prices increase too.
Somewhere in the middle of all European offerings reside the Brit bikes. They were considered daily riders. Middle class masses used them to get to work until they could afford cars. Raleigh and Rudge. The epitomy of the basic design. The more I'd seen pictures of them the more I seemed to remember a few of them around the area where I grew up.
The old Schwinns hold the same lines as, say, a Raleigh Sports. But finding them always seems to make people selling them think they're collector's gold. They were great products in their day but comparatively speaking they were just good standard products. An old Schwinn can be tuned up and ridden for the rest of a rider's life, they're that well built. The good news is they're everywhere. Hey, if you find one you like and the price is too high or the color isn't the one you always wanted, a little patience will likely bring you just what you were after.
Huffy, once a big player in the States, also made its share of commuter, or utility bicycles. Before you run out and buy one for some warm season riding, take a good look at the welds on Huffy frames. Now that the paint on these bikes is well aged or scratched, the poor welding is better seen. Too often made as quickly as possible with little (or no?) quality control. And I'm talking about the Huffys made right here in the good ol' U.S.
Now I would go for just about any utility bicycle. I like them all. The problem I have is I'm not what you'd call average height. Standover height (the tube from the seat post to the handlebar) probably means more to me than most. I had to pass many bikes for that simple reason. They were too tall.
I found a potential candidate on Craigslist. I called and the seller measured it out for me. He told me these particular bikes came in three sizes. That this one was the smallest they made. We talked and I learned he was into Czech scooters. I mentioned the Vespas. That one of them has been apart for years and I was either going to sell it as is or build it and just move on. He asked me what I wanted for it. We struck a tentative deal.
When he came over with his trailer he brought a 1972 Raleigh Superbe. Dark green. The in-hub generator lit both fore and rear lights. The Sturmey Archer three speed internal hub functioned just as it should and the bike, for all its weight, glided down my street like any other bike I've ridden. The original leather Brooks sprung saddle isn't cracked. I don't know that it's ever been truly broken in. It retains the shape they all do when they're new. Oh, the pump is mounted in the frame and it works.
He looked at body of that old GL and whistled. He looked at the boxes of parts and whistled again. But he smiled. We loaded up his new scooter and talked like old friends. I watched as he drove off. A very old Vespa frame secured to the front of a trailer, on the way to its new home.
The sun was out. Bright skies. Temps in the mid twenties. And there in the shadows of the garage was a classic old bike. My new old bike; full length matched paint fenders, upright deep chrome handlebars and a giant headlight nacelle in which I can actually see my reflection.
I pumped up the tires, checked her over and took her for a little spin.
No, she doesn't remind me of the Vespa. Or a motorcycle. She's wholly her own experience. Surprisingly easy to pedal. I can't emphasize this enough. From the first downward pedal stroke the old Raleigh just glides down the road.
Just another aspect of two wheeled happiness.