THE FIRST BIKE REALLT LOVED

Bicycling (South Africa) - - Birth Of An Icon - BY JOE LIND­SEY PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY MATT NAGER

THE BIKE IS OLD NOW, AND NOT MUCH TO LOOK AT.

The white and grey paint is scratched and gouged in too many spots to count. The parts are a cu­ri­ous mish­mash of swish up­grades from 15 years ago, and sec­ond-hand near-junk bought at a lo­cal char­ity shop. That dash­ing red chevron on the top and down tube that seemed so fetch­ing to me all those years ago? Time and de­cay have re­vealed it to be not paint, but rather a cheap, un­pro­tected de­cal. Same for ‘Bridge­stone’ and ‘MB-1’.

This is my old moun­tain bike, cur­rently my townie, my jalopy. I own 6.5 bi­cy­cles (the half is a shared dirt jumper). But if all were lost to­mor­row in a fire, the one I would mourn the most is the most di­lap­i­dated run­ner in the bunch. I have owned it for 27 years. When I bought it new, I never dreamed where it would take me, and what it would come to mean to me. I BOUGHT IT for $1 100 (cur­rently R15 000) in the spring of 1991, with a matric-pass cheque from my folks and money scraped to­gether from my min­i­mum-wage in­come from a fast-food joint. I’d been rid­ing bikes se­ri­ously for three years at that point, en­ter­ing lo­cal cri­teri­ums and a stage race with in­aus­pi­cious re­sults. I had a de­cent road bike, but I was roost­ing around lo­cal green­belt sin­gle­track and BMX parks on a clapped-out ATB Trail­mas­ter Dad bought at a depart­ment store for R1 000. I’d man­aged to bend the fork and put a large dent in the rear rim bun­ny­hop­ping kerbs, which of course meant I needed nicer equip­ment to trash.

Pretty quickly, I de­cided it must be a Bridge­stone. Which one, ex­actly, changed through­out win­ter and spring, as I saved. I started with sights set on the MB-3, a sturdy, ser­vice­able ma­chine, around R9 500. Soon, I talked my­self up to the R12 000 MB-2. Up­grades, you know.

In a dog-eared cat­a­logue I cadged from the lo­cal dealer, I made de­tailed notes on spec dif­fer­ences. Be­fore long, I’d ra­tio­nalised my way to the MB-1. Hand-brazed in Ja­pan, it had a full Ritchey Logic Pres­tige frame – dou­ble-butted tubes through­out for lighter weight. Im­por­tant, right? It was also the fur­thest my fi­nan­cial reach would grasp. Yes, the fa­bled MB-0, made for only two years and even to­day the sub­ject of spir­ited eBay bid­ding, was the bike I de­served, I told my­self. But it was R20 000 (about R38k, in to­day’s money): re­served for tax brack­ets well above the min­i­mum-wage re­wards of heat­ing up burg­ers and chips.

So, MB-1 it was. The sum­mer day I brought it home, one of my friends had a school-leav­ing party, and I rode the bike there. Doug and Jill and Eric and Mon­ica and the Kevins gath­ered around to of­fer ap­pre­ci­a­tion; but most vivid to me now was my hot fear and anger af­ter Doug crashed my new bike try­ing to pop a wheelie. Thank­fully, the bike was un­dam­aged. So was Doug, I think.

While I’d dab­bled in road rac­ing, I had yet to try the fast-grow­ing XC dis­ci­pline. →in­ally I had a bike wor­thy of it, and that sum­mer I en­tered my first MTB race at a lo­cal park. There were maybe 10 of us in the ju­nior Sport cat­e­gory that day. Given my un­promis­ing road rac­ing re­sults, I had low ex­pec­ta­tions. I started poorly, as usual. But the race was three times around a short-ish lap with one big climb, and if there was one thing I could do, it was climb.

By the end of lap one I’d picked my way through half the field. Af­ter two laps, I was third, and in sight of the first rider. The last time up the climb, I put my head down and poured ev­ery ounce of my­self into the ped­als, pass­ing one rider and then the sec­ond. At the crest, I was glo­ri­ously in the lead, with just a de­scent to the fin­ish. Cross­ing a rut, I felt the rear tyre bot­tom hard, and then go soft. I tried to ride it out, but it was like pedalling over a wet mat­tress. One rider passed me back again, then the sec­ond. At the line, I was a heart­bro­ken third.

Dis­ap­point­ment passed quickly, re­placed by the in­tox­i­cat­ing me­mory of near-suc­cess. With­out the flat, I told my­self, I’d have won. I pe­rused a copy of VeloNews, and – pre­sum­ably, still high on that post-race buzz – found what seemed like an ap­pro­pri­ate next goal: a 24-hour solo race called Mon­tezuma’s Re­venge. WHY DID I pick Bridge­stone, a largely for­got­ten brand that lasted just over 10 years in the US? My me­mory of the paths not taken is hazy: I’m sure that I thought about Spe­cial­ized, with its iconic Stumpjumper. Had I lived on the East Coast, the Can­non­dale M800 – the Beast of the East! – would’ve been a strong con­tender. I’m pos­i­tive that I lusted af­ter the Ritchey P-21. Although if the MB-0 was not in my price range, the hand­made, fil­let-brazed P-21,

A COMBO OF OLD ROAD AND MOUN­TAIN-BIKE PARTS YIELDS A 10-SPEED FRIC­TION-SHIFT DRIV­E­TRAIN.

with its pa­tri­otic tri­colour fade, was clearly be­yond all hope.

As I look back now as a jour­nal­ist who writes about bikes, it’s pretty clear why Bridge­stone spoke to me: that cat­a­logue. The brand stopped sell­ing bikes in Amer­ica af­ter 1994. But in its day, it had an out­size rep­u­ta­tion as an icon­o­clas­tic, qual­ity brand known for so­phis­ti­cated cat­a­logues that glo­ri­fied a com­plete life­style, decades be­fore oth­ers thought about branded con­tent or am­bas­sadors.

In­stead of just dry spec list­ings and ge­om­e­try charts, the 1991 cat­a­log was near mag­a­zine-like in length (40 pages) and con­tent. It was all in colour, fea­tur­ing ac­tion mod­els and per­son­al­i­ties like Karen the cy­cling ma­rine bi­ol­o­gist, Pineap­ple Bob, and Min­nesota leg­end ‘Gene-O’. There were ar­ti­cles that wouldn’t be out of place to­day in this mag­a­zine: how to re­duce your aero drag, what frame stiff­ness is and why it mat­ters, and a two-page fea­ture tu­to­rial on cor­ner­ing, with pho­tos of a scan­dalously hel­met­less model.

I sought out and kept those an­nual cat­a­logues, even af­ter buy­ing a bike, be­cause they were more than just sales tools. I scru­ti­nised Michael King’s body po­si­tion in the piece on cor­ner­ing tech­nique. I ea­gerly read ar­ti­cles on gear­ing, or frame-build­ing styles. A story on low-im­pact trail rid­ing helped in­spire my first jour­nal­is­tic fea­ture: an es­say for my high-school English class about moun­tain bikes and trail ero­sion. Those cat­a­logues taught me as much about bikes, and cy­cling jour­nal­ism, as read­ing Bi­cy­cling or VeloNews.

So why Bridge­stone? Be­cause the cat­a­logues spoke to me as a 17-year-old find­ing his way on the bike and in the world, who didn’t know who he was but glimpsed in those pages a ver­sion of who he might want to be.

SO, THE RE­VENGE. I was ig­no­rant, un­der­trained, and wildly over­matched, with al­most zero idea of what I was get­ting into. Mon­tezuma’s Re­venge was an ab­so­lutely id­i­otic, in­spired idea: a 24-hour solo ‘moun­tain-bike odyssey’ start­ing and fin­ish­ing in the tiny ham­let of Mon­tezuma, Colorado, and al­most en­tirely above 2 750m. (Clever motto: ‘You ain’t shit un­til you’ve had the Re­venge!’)

The 290km-plus course was un­marked – rid­ers sim­ply had to learn it in ad­vance – and un­fin­ish­able. Who­ever got fur­thest on the nine dif­fer­ent loops, with 10 cross­ings of the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide, was the win­ner. On one loop, rac­ers hiked their bikes up a steep, rocky field to the sum­mit of Gray’s Peak (4 352m) and back down an­other face, through a sec­tion of cliff bands. At night. Af­ter 160km of rac­ing.

I knew about all that. In­tel­lec­tu­ally, that is. In the­ory. I trained all sum­mer, mostly with long road rides, and scouted parts of the course the week be­fore. But it didn’t mat­ter: I got dropped al­most im­me­di­ately, and DN→’ed 120km in with ex­cru­ci­at­ing knee pain. I failed to fin­ish the next two years, as well. I failed in train­ing. I failed in prepa­ra­tion, in plan­ning, and in per­se­ver­ance. I failed in so many ways. But the Bridge­stone never failed. It was light and didn’t hold me back on the long climbs. I rode the tech­ni­cal stuff in con­trol and with­out crash­ing. The rigid fork was proven and re­li­able; even as I jack­ham­mered over rocks and bumps, I never wor­ried about it break­ing. Look­ing back, af­ter that first one I don’t even re­mem­ber an­other flat tyre.

I FAILED IN PREPA­RA­TION, IN PLAN­NING, AND IN PER­SE­VER­ANCE. BUT THE BRIDGE­STONE NEVER FAILED.

IN THE YEARS af­ter my Re­venge fail­ures, the Bridge­stone trans­formed. Or, rather, the bike in­dus­try left it be­hind, forc­ing it to change. →ull sus­pen­sion be­gan to fi­nally de­liver hints of its prom­ise. Disc brakes, fat­ter steerer tubes, wider axle spac­ing fol­lowed. Steel was re­placed by alu­minium, and then car­bon fi­bre.

I still rode and raced my MB-1, but even­tu­ally a sandy cross-coun­try event de­stroyed the driv­e­train. Even cleaned, it never shifted prop­erly. Ob­so­lete and ex­pen­sive to re­vive, the MB-1 could have been junked. In­stead, it adapted. The sin­gle-speed fad was in its in­fancy and I was in­trigued by its sense of fun, which seemed to have gone miss­ing from tra­di­tional XC rac­ing. So with Paul Com­po­nent’s then-new WORD (Wacky One-Speed Rear De­vice) hub and a Surly

Sin­gleator, the Bridge­stone and I joined the one-speeder club. Not long af­ter, I left the only real job I’ve ever had, and moved back to Boul­der, where sin­gle-speed was both a bike and a so­cial scene.

It wasn’t just sin­gle-speed­ing’s sim­plic­ity that ap­pealed to me; it was its ab­sur­dity – why would you have just one gear?! That was high­lighted by ac­tiv­i­ties like the Wed­nes­day lunch rides with a lo­cal sin­gle­speed crew called the In­ter­galac­tic Pi­lots, which in­cluded stunts like rid­ing in teams of two with bikes tied to­gether with rope. Sin­gle-speed­ing en­abled my favourite ap­proach to rid­ing, best de­scribed as quirky. Rather than to­day’s cookie-cut­ter in­dus­trial sin­gle­track, I like quiet, small, tight trails where you de­scend no faster than you climb. In­stead of signs, I pre­fer trail­side shrines made of pop cul­ture ob­jects, like the me­tre-tall plas­tic Pooh Bear on one trail, and a rub­ber foot in a tree on an­other. And the best rides are the ones where I can go for hours and see more deer than peo­ple.

Even­tu­ally, the sin­gle-speed fad faded (it re­ally is the wrong gear, all the time), and the rigid fork grew more ob­nox­ious than ec­cen­tric on tech­ni­cal trails. The Bridge­stone’s one-inch steerer tube made it ef­fec­tively im­pos­si­ble to add any kind of sus­pen­sion, in a land­scape of 11/8-inch and ta­pered steerer tubes.

So it trans­formed again. Af­ter a cou­ple years of rest in my garage, I con­verted it to a 10-speed util­ity bike. It’s my ride of choice for gro­cery runs, er­rands, and avoid­ing the shit­show that is park­ing in Boul­der when I meet friends on Pearl Street for a beer. I put a rear rack on and un­earthed an old set of Moun­tain­smith pan­niers to ex­pand its haul­ing ca­pac­ity. →or about six months last year, I even did an e-bike con­ver­sion with a Copen­hagen Wheel, a seam­less, sim­ple process that said as much about the bike’s adapt­abil­ity as it did the Wheel’s de­sign. And be­ing a Bridge­stone, with a some­what eclec­tic parts mix, in a bike-mad town like Boul­der, it also serves as a con­ver­sa­tion piece. When I bought it, I’d ride it al­most daily. And now, I do so again.

‘Cruiser’ might be the MB-1’s fi­nal in­car­na­tion, but as it’s lived at least three lives till now, who can say? When I swapped the parts for cruis­ing, I took a mo­ment to ap­pre­ci­ate, again, the prac­ti­cal, re­strained wis­dom in its cre­ation. Even in 1991, bike­mak­ers were qui­etly elim­i­nat­ing stuff from frames that added weight or cost, like mud­guard eye­lets. But be­cause Bridge­stone kept them, I can add mud­guards with­out ugly, cum­ber­some clip-on brack­ets. Its stan­dard, English-thread bot­tom bracket shell means parts are still easy to find. And be­cause it’s steel, I can al­ways cold-set the rear tri­an­gle to ac­cept slightly wider axles. I HAVE OWNED, and sold, other bikes that to a stranger would have far more value. And I have other bikes with that ‘for­ever bike’ sta­tus: a gor­geous steel Pe­goretti, an iconic Raleigh team track bike. Like the Bridge­stone, they have sen­ti­men­tal value to me. But in those cases, there are sort-of-ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tions for their for­ever-bike sta­tus that would make sense to an­other cy­clist. The Bridge­stone? Maybe to a few of us who re­mem­ber the brand as I do. But to most, the first re­ac­tion is, “Don’t they make car tyres?”

It’s not pretty, with scratched and gouged paint and faded and peel­ing de­cals. The parts are of­ten cheap used stuff, like a sec­ond-hand Sun­tour GPX rear de­railleur, or the De­ore XT thumb­shifters, which I bought be­cause they have a fric­tion mode, which means the driv­e­train never needs ad­just­ing. There’s a ‘Made in Hun­gary’ sticker on the head tube that some­one slapped on long ago as a joke. When I ride no-hands, there’s a sub­tle but un­mis­take­able speed wob­ble up front. And be­cause it’s old, it may very well break one day when I ride it off a curb with a full load of gro­ceries in the pan­niers.

And yet, this least of bikes, this un­re­mark­able left­over, this kludged-to­gether… thing, is my most trea­sured twowheeled posses­sion. When we were both new – to cy­cling, to adult­hood – the fu­ture was bright, clear, and clean. No doubt, no losses to scar us, no ques­tions of iden­tity and self-worth that come with age and ex­pe­ri­ence and fail­ure. Time has brought plenty of those. But each chal­lenge has been met not with re­trench­ment, but with rein­car­na­tion, adap­ta­tion, and ac­cep­tance.

A quar­ter of a cen­tury ago, I har­boured vague and un­re­al­is­tic dreams as a racer. Thank­fully, I failed to achieve them. Had I suc­ceeded, I might have dis­carded the Bridge­stone for a new ride when tech­nol­ogy over­took it. Had I not found the cat­a­logues, per­haps I would not have cho­sen jour­nal­ism. I love this bike not be­cause of what it is, but be­cause of what we – it and I – are to­gether. What we’ve been through. What we’ve be­come. And what we may yet be.

THE AU­THOR, WITH HIS BRIDGE­STONE MB-1.

AN ORIG­I­NAL HITE-RITE ‘DROP­PER’ MAKES FOR BUD­GET SEAT­POST-THEFT PRO­TEC­TION.

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