Ahh, my first bike, a second-hand 20″ single-speed with a rattle-can red paint job and dented fenders. It was nothing to look at, but I loved it nevertheless. I rode it everywhere, or at least everywhere a 5-year old could. Pretending it was a top-fuel dragster, I’d purposely high-center the rear wheel between its training wheels and pedal with all my might, executing the dirt equivalent of a burnout. I’d use more or less the same method but creep slowly forward, digging long trenches in our driveway, much more efficient than using my Tonka backhoe.
I understand why folks have a strong connection to their first bikes. Like the beat-up little Schwinn-built B.F. Goodrich girl’s bike that showed up here one day 7 months ago. It wasn’t rare, it wasn’t collectible per se… Heck, it wasn’t even a full-size bike, but rather a diminutive 24″ wheel model. The fact that the customer had kept it for 69 years was no accident, though. …And any attempts to talk her out of a full restoration fell on deaf ears: Sometimes a bike is restored not because it’s rare or valuable, it’s love, pure and simple.
The B.F. Goodrich went into the shop queue and soon enough was underway. I discovered there’s something liberating about restoration without worrying about the cost vs. subsequent value. It’s a good thing because the Goodrich threw the scales off almost immediately and never looked back.
So here it is, all shiny and running like a champ. No garage queen, the owner says the bike still fits her so she’s gonna ride it. Maybe I’ll teach her how to do a burnout when she picks it up.
Some 20 years ago I helped restore this 1949 Phantom for Gary Klefman, the owner of the Schwinn shop here in town. It was one of the first restorations I’d done for someone else. To that point all the bikes I worked on were either for myself or my partner in paint, Sean O’Brien. I admit I wasn’t yet used to putting all the sweat and tears in for someone else’s benefit. Both Sean and I were young and though neither were rich, we were nominally funded enough to restore and keep anything we worked on. It took over a year, but in the end the Phantom was finished. It was thus was a bittersweet moment when it rolled out the front door.
After that, I’d occasionally go into Gary’s shop. I’d see the Phantom hanging on the wall and I’d start to pine for it, partly because I’d put all the time into it and partly because, well, a collector is always collecting. I knew Gary prized the bike and that it would have been futile to make an offer, however ridiculous. I had to be content visiting it on the rare occasion I needed something from the Schwinn shop. I think I might have even made up an excuse to go see it once or twice, purchasing a couple extra Bendix two-speed springs just so I could look it over.
Gary’s son Randy took over the business in the 2000’s, the shop moved and eventually they even dropped the Schwinn line. …And still the bike hung on the wall. Imagine my surprise when Randy called recently, asking me if I might be interested in purchasing the bike. He seemed shocked that I was interested, and I must have sounded shocked that he thought I might not have been. I guess a possession can mean different things to different people. To Randy the bike might have been merely a dust collector. To me, well, you probably know what it means to me by now.
So now there’s another full circle ownership story to tell. It took a little over two decades to complete, but nevertheless, it feels like the bike is home.