Wednesday, November 26, 2008

So, one thing I am thankful for this thanksgiving...old bikes that shape our lives. Many of you who have been around the VRC forums for a few years may remember this story. I wrote it to share the tale of my first mountain bike. Given the spirit of the holiday, I thought I'd share it with you...

Patience is a virtue...

Good things come to those who wait...

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while...

All these quotes have become the mantra that I've been adhering to for the last uncounted years.

The reason...the story has finally come full circle.

During the late 80's and early 90's, I was racing road bikes a lot, enjoying the physical challenge, the adrenaline of the breakaway, and the speed of the peleton. Along with the time on the road came the requisite time hanging out in the shop to talk trash and check out the next great piece of equipment. One afternoon, while making a dash through the shop, a frame with myriad of colors caught my eye .

I had never seen anything like it. Aside from the multiple rings of neon, the tubing was WAY oversized, changing shape as traveled linearly from joint to joint, welds so seamless they appeared as fine ripples in a placid pool. The lines of the frame seemed to be continuous as they flowed into a one piece bar/stem combination with ergonomic bends, the front end supported by an overbuilt, straight bladed fork. Though it held artistic aspects, the package elicited a feeling that was dually stated by the decals on the tubing; HARD CORE.

After racing svelte steel road bikes, this thing was the antithesis of all I knew about cycling...and I was in love! Although I had never before ridden a mountain bike, I quickly decided that I would be taking this frame home. Closing the sale, I learned that the frame was one of three that were for sale from the shop, crafted by a small frame builder in Pennsylvania by the name of Bill Grove. The other two, an ASSAULT and an X-frame, stirred my curiosity as they were decidedly different from the rest of the Schwinns/Treks/Cannondales that clogged the aisles. The Groves made a statement; not about being flashy or standing out, but that these were machines that were designed to take you farther into the wilderness than ventured before, designs that could stand up to adventure and bring the rider back exhausted but with a smile.

The next few years my riding emphasis was drawn from the tarmac to the singletrack. The Hardcore opened doors to places I would not have expected and skills that engaged the childlike fun of riding free. Unlike many who do not realize how special that first bike is until it is gone, I knew that I’d hang onto the Hardcore for a long time unless something forced it’s sale. As life often does, an opportunity came along that I could not pass up.

My wife Christi and I had become ardent tandem enthusiasts and were soon searching for a design that met our needs for a frame that could take us from the pavement to mild off road duty in our explorations of the North East. Unsatisfied with what was available, I designed a frame that I felt met our needs and began to shop around for a builder to make it a reality. That builder turned out to be Bill Grove. In visiting the shop, located in the small central PA town of Center Hall, I was drawn to the magic that went on there. The process of building frames had taken me and I knew that I had to know more. I appealed to Bill’s love of teaching and convinced him to let me come back and learn, fortunately for me, every shop needs a grunt to carry out the mundane . The only issue that I had to resolve was how I was going to pay my bills while I was gone…the solution, sell what I could.

The sale of the Hardcore was bittersweet. I hated to part with the machine that had inspired my new direction but rationalized that once I learned the craft of frame building, I could fashion my own frame to fill the void. Turns out, I could build lots of frames but none could ever replace the emotional attachment I had for that bike. I made a weak attempt to find the Hardcore but the guy I had sold it to had moved out of town and did not leave a forwarding address.

Twelve years have passed since that time and my interest in retro has been peaked. Reading threads about first bikes, bikes you wish you would have never sold, and how you got started in the sport poked me in the ribs each time I ran across one. Why did I have to sell that Grove?

In a vain attempt, I made up a wanted sign to hang in the local shop, posting a reward for anyone who could provide info to where the frame is now. Silly, I know, but I thought if there was a chance… Two weeks ago, the owner of the shop gave me a call; “Rody, you’ll never guess what just came in the door! It’s gotta be your bike, I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

I rushed down to the shop, skeptical that it could really be my old ride, but childishly hopeful all the same. As I opened the door, there it hung in the stand, beaming it’s neon like the day it was new. I knew in that instant that it was my old ride. The one piece bar/stem had been changed out and the thumbies replaced by rapid-fire, but other than that, it was still all original down to the last item, even the cable housing! The current owner, Mike, had just received the bike as a gift from a friend to help him recover from a heart attack. Although he lives two hours away and had to pass at least three other shops, he brought the bike to my local shop to have it tuned up. Sometimes the planets align!

When Mike rolled the bike into the shop, the guys immediately went nuts, so much so that the poor guy started to have chest pains again thinking that he had taken possession of a stolen bike. They quickly showed him the Wanted poster with the picture and he realized what all the excitement was about. Fortunately for me, Mike is a musician and is currently involved in trying to recover a few old guitars he had sold years ago, so was empathetic to my situation. Even better, he still had the original fork and bar/stem combo that I had sold with it. He gave me the Hardcore in trade for one that I am building for him, more than fair in my mind.

So the tale has come full circle. I’ve got my first mountain bike back, the frame that inspired my love of dirt, my desire to fabricate, and satiates my emotional attachment. I’ve stripped it down, cleaned it up and am planning on rebuilding it with it’s original components, might have to replace the original cable housing this time around though .

This story took place a few years ago now, Mike has his new ride and has reported enjoying the dirt road adventures in his area. I'm so thankful that I was able to regain the Grove...hope y'all hang onto that first bike that taught you there are no physical boundries when the mind is open to adventure!

No report tomorrow on Thanksgiving, but check in bright and early Friday for the Groovy "Black Friday" scratch and dent clearout for all you dedicated readers ;)



1 comment:

Brian said...

Ahh... Grove Hardcore - it brings a tear to my eye. Still love those paint jobs.