Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Guest Post: Bill Hopp, the Anonymous Hoosier

Hello, everyone!  While I am out lurking in the Toy Aisle at Walmart, gathering more material for yet another Big Box Bicycle Rant, our friend Bill Hopp has sent in a little tale of how he got into cycling.  It is a rather familiar story, as I am sure you all will agree.  Enjoy!

A Grossly Subjective Portrait of the Cyclist as a Young Man

When There Was Ike...
At least in the White House, although I gave him little thought. Here along the Banks of the Wabash, there was a small pressed steel colorfully enameled tricycle on loan and a short stretch of sidewalk on South Center Street. I caught the bug.

Soon came the upgrade to a larger, but still very small, steel tube framed red & white tricycle, also on loan. My allowed range was increased to an entire circuit of our home block. This was living.

Up On Two Wheels
Or, four at first, counting the training wheels. My first bicycle, also on loan, wore the obligatory red and white. I doubt the wheels were so large as sixteen inches, but like the wheels of its three wheeled predecessors, they were shod in solid rubber. All three of these machines were, of course, fixies. Soon, I was not only allowed to round the home block, but occasionally an adjacent one.

It was on this bicycle that I learned the joys of speed and balance. I also learned the limits imposed by basic classical physics: as manifest in encounters with those pesky immovable objects such as large street trees; what happens when centrifugal versus centripetal force are not kept in mind; and good old gravity, frequently backstopped by concrete. For a few months I must always have worn a scab on at least one knee or forearm.

Before There were Cuban Missiles
When the last loaner was outgrown and returned to its rightful owner, during a shopping trip along Wabash Avenue with my mother, there came into my life what some then called a “big boy bike” It was of course red, had twenty-four inch wheels with pneumatic tires and coaster brakes. I was by this time more adept at negotiating turns and preserving balance. Could life be any better?

A Few Years Later
1967 actually, as reported in my comment regarding: New Bike. Multiple gear ratios came into my life. This Schwinn Collegiate with five speed dérailleur gearing was “it” for me. When not asleep, eating, mowing lawns, or at school, I did my best to live in motion on this machine.

An Atechnical Interlude
I grew up in a somewhat unhandy household. My parents were both bright and educated people. My late father, as an infant, lost his trainman father to a rail yard accident. He, in consequence, was raised by his mother and aunt, both of whom were schoolteachers but to my knowledge unskilled in the mechanical arts. My early (she is still very much with us) mother, the daughter of a mining/civil engineer was raised as a girl of her generation and not given much instruction of the sort lavished on boys. Thus the bane of my early cycling life on pneumatic tires was the puncture. At each occurrence, I was told to wait until my father could load the wounded bike into the trunk of his car for a trip to the bike shop, where my machine sometimes languished for days on end.

Along Comes Jeffrey
One day while off in the District of Columbia, LBJ was dreaming up his visions of a great and poverty-free society, I was riding bikes with my friend Jeff Bradford. Suddenly, my front tire lost pressure. Jeff said, “C'mon, I'll show you how to fix it!” He gave instructions and let me do much of the work. Lo' the repair process was simple and quick. The results imparted a great glow of satisfaction. I had been freed from the yoke of utter dependence. This experience planted in me the seeds of desire – the desire to fix things. For years I searched out the worn and the defective in order to lay hands on such things and to learn. Even today, sometimes it is difficult to appreciate things that simply function as intended.

Expanding Horizons
With a multi-speed bicycle and some repair and maintenance skills, more and more of one's home area becomes irresistible to exploration. A thing that is hard not to notice while riding a bicycle, even in a smallish city, is that other people, who were not previously your friends, ride and enjoy bicycles too. They often smile and offer greetings. Without really trying, you find that you have new friends. Then you discover that there is such a thing as a cycling club, with monthly meetings and Saturday morning group rides and Wednesday evening group rides. Soon there is a card in your wallet identifying you as a member of the Wabash Wheelmen (now sadly defunct). Then you also become a card-carrying member of the League of American Wheelmen (still around, but with a new name). Naturally enough, you eventually travel to Bloomington, Indiana with a group of club members and you all participate in the Hilly Hundred, a two day two-wheeled extravaganza.

After an equipment upgrade, you find yourself going on an actual century ride one fine summer Saturday.

The Birth of Said Upgrade
Acquiring and riding the Collegiate was was the thing that first got me in touch with brand loyalty. As the frame got too small, and the gears began to seem too few, there was born in me the burning consumerist desire for: another Schwinn. It was to be a Varsity, with ten speeds, no fenders, and drop handle bars. By late summer of 1970, a plan came into focus: save money. The raking and mowing of neighbor's lawns took on a new significance, one that extended into the spring of 1971. Meanwhile, the list price of a Varsity had risen from $81.95 to $89.95. Yet, there was no wavering. I continued to save. I may even have scrimped a time or two, but that is much in doubt. My target was $120.00, as I had to allow for possible impulse accessory purchases, last minute price changes, and my youthful fear that Indiana might raise her sales tax rate above the already confiscatory 2%.

Der Tag
One fine late spring day in 1971, my pocket full of dollars, I headed to Frank's Cycle Center to make my dreams come true.

Reality Intrudes
Bicycle boom? What bicycle boom? Not a single Varsity in stock? Backorder! How long will that take? You don't know? No problem. A Continental is expensive at $104.95 plus tax, but I have enough money for that. Oh, same story as the Varsity...

Bob Upsells
Bob, nephew of Keith, and grandson of the late Frank, pointed me to the two remaining Schwinn ten speeds in the store. One was a Sports Tourer, priced at $196.00, or about the same level as the then national debt. I could barely look at it, it was so far out of my financial reach. The other was a Super Sport, tantalizingly almost within reach at $136.95. I quickly realized that after tax the price would approach $140.00, or given the fact that I had not quite achieved my savings goal of $120.00,  more than $20.00 beyond my means.

Quietly and Patiently on the Sidelines
There was Mom, who quietly and generously offered to make up the difference and to pop for a generator light set. The light set appeared primarily at maternal insistence, although this did not evolve into the sort of pitched battle that raged years before, when she insisted that a basket be mounted on my Collegiate, spoiling its clean lines and slowing (I was certain) my swift progress. (Yes Mom, I love bicycle baskets now, but you gotta give a guy a few decades to work through these things...)

I liked the idea of lights, because I liked (and like) to ride at night and in the early morning and, even so early as the first Nixon administration, the word “safety” was in current, if not common use.

Heretofore (remember we are still in 1971), I had met with frustration when attempting to light my youthful way. These were the days before alkaline batteries and LED lamps. Earlier, I had installed my own battery operated headlamps, only to find that they generally emitted a feeble glow as I pedaled out and that this glow usually faded faster than that of the sinking sun. For its day, the “Schwinn Approved” generator light set was a good enough technology and not one that broke the bank. Mom and I were in agreement. Thanks Mom.

Dealer Prep
Does such a thing still apply to the world of the LBS? It took a few days, but the return trip to pick up and ride away on my brand new Sierra Brown machine finally came. As I saddled up I told Bob that I was going to ride home and remove the toe clips. He suggested that I might want to see if I liked them first. Two miles later, I loved the clips.

What Happened 
I rode and I rode and I loved riding. Many miles were covered, on both Schwinns, one at a time, of necessity.

Then came the first “Indiana Operator Driver License” – that is what the new one calls itself. I believe the old card stock and photoless one was simply labeled “Indiana Operator's License”, which seems more grammatically in sync with what once was called correct.

There was also an early, and fleeting (may have had something to do with “early”), marriage.

Although they received less attention, the Violet Collegiate and Sierra brown Super Sport survived both above upheavals, and for several years thereafter. They even survived the arrival of a Cannondale in the mid 1980s. The Schwinns did not survive the dissolution of a second marriage a couple of years later. Said Cannondale did survive.

Purchased with more enthusiasm than reflection, my Cannondale was built on a frame too small for my frame. Fortunately, in the early 1990s a friend became enamored of the aluminum frame.

Thus with a with a mix and match of componentry and barter, the Cannondale morphed happily into a Centurion, with a larger steel frame. I decided I like steel. Aluminum is good for foil wrap, beer cans, and such, but when it comes to bicycle frames, I (like Grant Peterson), prefer steel.

Also during the early Clinton years, I noticed that many used bicycles come available here and they're for sale for not very many dollars. I had also talked to Ron, who collected British bicycles. Why not buy and ride a This, or maybe a That? Thereby was born the growing fleet - Hint to aspiring velomaniacs: it helps to have a really, really, understanding spouse, as I now do. And a garage. And a basement. And an Attic.

As noted, the old Collegiate is forever gone. The closest I have come to replacing it is a five speed Suburban (oh, and a ten speed Suburban and a three speed Suburban, and another five speed Suburban, but who would admit to such excess?) from a few years later. The hole left by the Super Sport is also being filled. Another 1971 Super Sport appeared via craigslist. It was even sold originally from the same shop as my dear departed. The frame is different in that it is the smaller 22”, not the 24”, and Campus green, not Sierra brown. Although advertised as “all original” it was missing its toe clips, the Brooks saddle had given way to a vinyl mattress a la Suburban and the original Randonneur style bars had been replace by a set of “cruiser” handlebars wide enough to steer the Exxon Valdez aground along any coastline of your choosing. I will happily live with the frame. As for the components? Well, some progress has been made.

The Anonymous Hoosier
Athens on the Wabash (a.k.a. Terre Haute)

Trailer Park Cyclist Guest Post #2


  1. Bill excellent story. I was particularly struck by how the knowledge of patching a punctured tube, something I take for granted now, could make such a difference in a boys life. I love working on old 10 speeds because they are simple enough for my limited "handiness" and it gives me great satisfaction to get them up and running again. I envy your plethora of storage, after the recent dissolution of my marriage I am finding its hard to find room for bikes and bike projects in an apartment -thank goodness for the deck! Keep'em rolling in Indiana.

    (Roadie) Ryan guest post #1

    PS found this on the interwebs 1971 Catalog shot of the sport tourer

    1. Double R,

      Thank you for your friendly weigh in. What is not to like about old ten speeds? The two most common problems I have found with them are: often the tires have dry rotted, which makes sense; and nearly as often, the drop handlebars have rotated 180 degrees from proper orientation. That second problem is inexplicable, but both are easy to correct. Off and on the Brains of the Outfit talks about adding a deck to our house and I have been lukewarm. Since you have pointed out the obvious utility value of the deck as additional bike storage, I am rapidly warmly to the idea. Thanks also for the catalogue link, that was new to me. Amazingly, my hard copy of the 1971 Schwinn catalogue survives.

      Bill Ghost Pest #2

  2. Great guest post! I can relate, but not with such detailed memories. The one thing I do know is that the Operator's License was definitely the demise of my younger cycling life and the start of my becoming the large man I am today. I too have a lack of storage and currently have 3 bikes - a Scwhinn Landmark Cruiser which I purchased to get back into riding, an 80's Univega which really got me moving and my current Diamondback hybrid which is what I ride most often. I have yet to go off road or on dirt, but that will be coming in the future.

    1. Dan, I, in my turn, can relate to what you say. I was no shorter, but there was a lot less of me when I had two bikes and no car keys. There is one sure fire weight loss program: measure your weight in Kilos, not pounds. That alone will cut your weight by more than half. In my case, serious weight loss was required. I now measure my weight in stone. Just using that technique, my weight is down to just over 15. I didn't even have to buy new clothes. But, I keep riding anyway. Like you, I have not taken in the joys of dirt riding. I'm sure I will, it is just a matter of time.
      Thanks for your good words.


  3. We all got bitten somehow somewhen. And here we are, "Still crazy after all these years."

    It's a good kind of crazy though...

    1. Wayward Son,

      It is a good kind of crazy at that. Sometimes a ride in the pouring ran is all it takes to but a big grin on my mug.


  4. Steel is real. I most often ride current carbon technology, but I keep an old steel single speed with Brooks B17 saddle ready to roll at all time. Some days when riding alone I grab the single speed and just peddle. It is liberating to not shift or think of shifting and just roll. Between the frame and bigger tires she just smooths out the road.

    1. Swell Guy,

      Truth to tell, I have never ridden a carbon fiber frame, or any machine with fork, bars or seat post of carbon fiber. But then, I got my first 8-track player about the time CDs hit the market, so I might be classed as "last adopter". At least compared to aluminum, I do like the feel of a steel frame. And leather saddles, not known as weight saving components, do have the edge when it comes to comfort.

      Thanks much,


  5. Bill,

    Amazing, but riding a bike is one of the things (besides like eating & sleeping) that I've been doing longest in my life. I was riding a bike before I could read, or play music...

    And its still as much fun as when I was a kid. Maybe more.

    Nice post. Tell TJ to go for a ride.

    Steve Z

    1. Steve Z,

      Wow did you ever put it in perspective. Biking did come into my life before reading, or making music. Right now, I don't ride or read anywhere near as much as I want to. And, I have nearly forgotten the few music making skills I once had. Sounds as if I need to get with the program in all three areas. Thanks for the wake up call.


  6. Gentlemen of the Jury,

    And here I am collectively addressing the above: RoadieRyan; Dan; Wayward Son; The Swell Guy; and Steve Z.

    I am flattered that you each took the time to read and comment on the above ramble that our gracious host, Tim Joe Comstock, invited me to contribute to his otherwise remarkable weblog.

    Finally, at least for here and now, thanks T.J. for the opportunity to chime in.

    Bill Hopp, The Anonymous Hoosier

  7. It was our pleasure, Bill. Thanks for taking the time to share with us your story. As I said before, it resonates on more than one level and is a familiar tale. Nevertheless, it is always comforting to know that one is not alone with his addiction.

    Thanks, guys, for your kind comments. Who knows? You might be next!


  8. Bill,
    Great post! I sure enjoyed your story and bike history. I rolled down many of the paths you did. The arrival of my driver's license did not quite end my bike riding because I had to share a car with my sister who was a senior, you can guess how often I got the car. Then she left for college but the car stayed home!! Necessity allowed me to put alot of miles on that old ten speed Peugeot! It is fun to think back on the bikes that have passed through my hands. I do like, and have the best memories of the steel road bike!
    Thanks for sharing!

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