Marolt: When new bike shorts were what was left of our old jeans
You could hardly blame us for what we did. We were kids, not even old enough to drive. Besides, we didn’t have any role models to demonstrate the proper way to do it.
In the mid-1970s, everyone in Aspen had a bicycle even though nobody knew how to use them. The 10-speed ruled. I have no idea how long they’d been out in the world, but Aspen was on the thick side opposite the cutting edge then, and sleek, geared bikes with ram-horn handlebars didn’t make it here until around our nation’s 200th birthday.
Like I said, nobody had a clue about bicycling. Most dawdled through town on them. Plenty rode while wearing jeans, and it was considered cool to pedal around without a shirt on. Some people turned the handlebars up to be different. Riding a wheelie was a desired skill. Obviously there were no bike paths, so riding on the street wasn’t considered showing off. There was no such thing as training. I’d say it was pretty much a free-for-all, and folks did with their bikes whatever sounded fun.
Kids were not excluded. We saw bikes as freedom, and so we saved our newspaper sales tips and bought shiny, new Peugeots at Aspen Sports. The next thing we did, which looking back was embarrassingly naive, was ride our bikes to Maroon Lake. Why? The best I can figure is we had the time.
Nobody else was riding to anywhere near Maroon Lake, and we had the tourists to ourselves. Oh, how they gawked and marveled that human beings could get all the way up there under their own power. I’ll admit, we ate that up.
After a while, though, we started to see it for what it was: a long ride for a little praise. We needed another reason to keep going. What we came up with will be appalling to the modern cyclist. We began strapping a frying pan to one of the bikes while the others carried raw bacon in backpacks. We also took a little pancake mix and maybe some Kool-Aid.
We’d get up there at midmorning and build our fire. We’d cook breakfast and eat it sitting on rocks, staring up at the giant peaks. Those were great mornings. Eventually we’d get tired of resting and dump the bacon grease on the fire and let it roar itself out. After it was good and dead, we’d jump on the bikes and race back to town. When we crashed, it seemed we always landed on our elbows and knees, so there was no need for helmets, even if you could have bought one.
I led you to believe that there was no one in town who knew anything about bicycling in the old days, and now I’m kind of sorry for lying about that. Mr. Grewal knew what he was doing on a bicycle. Legend said he was a cycling champion from Pakistan. He owned a bike shop called Sherpa Sports. He wore wool jerseys and tight, black shorts that we giggled at but knew must have served a purpose for the pros.
Yes, Mr. Grewal knew what to do on a bicycle. He went far and fast and often. Most importantly, he never looked like he was having any fun. That seemed odd considering our cycling experiences, but 30 years down the road, we would realize that was the proper demeanor to display in the saddle on a serious piece of racing machinery wearing sleek clothes like he did. How could we have known?
I cringe a little thinking how we treated our bikes. When they redid the golf course and it was all dirt and no grass for a summer, we built a network of trails that you just couldn’t stop tooling around on because it was so fun. We jumped over ditches and made banked curves in the dry ponds. The dirt mounds that would become greens and tee boxes provided all kinds of challenges. But man, was that stuff tough on the gear. Our bikes were filthy. Their derailleurs were bent and hard to shift. The brakes squealed worse than the rusty chains and were so out of alignment that they rarely stopped us in time.
Ah, well, live and learn. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. Thank goodness we didn’t understand how much fun it eventually would be to dress up fancy and race head-down to the Bells and back timing ourselves and monitoring our heart rates while counting the number of other cyclists we passed along the way.
Roger Marolt really hates that cycling app that allows you to race against people who rode your same route yesterday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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