By DAVID GREEN
Thirty-eight years ago I lived with some friends in a house on Park Lane in East Lansing. There was a student living in the house next door with a Bobet bicycle.
It was a Louison Bobet 15-speed road bike, which didn’t mean much to me. I guess it didn’t mean anything at all to me except that it was a pretty sharp looking bike and I wanted to ride it.
I asked the owner if I could take it for a spin and was surprised to hear her say that I could. I always referred to her in my head as Bonnie Bobet. I never knew her actual last name.
I rode over to the nearby high school track and I might have pretended I didn’t see the sign that forbid bicycles. I really wanted to see how this thing felt.
I returned it unharmed and Bonnie explained that Bobet bicycles were something special. The Bobet was a very well-known, expensive French bicycle. I borrowed it one more time before the school year ended and I never saw Bonnie nor her bike again. She graduated, I still had another year.
I continued riding my old standard American bike that I won in a contest in Morenci. It might have been associated with the summer fair and I think it was from Gambles. It had only one speed, and that depended on how tired I was.
A year later it was my turn to graduate and my parents offered to help me buy a bike as a present. I think that’s how it went. I think we split the cost because I didn’t want an ordinary bike and they weren’t about to spend the ridiculous sum of $150 on a bicycle.
I wasn’t going for a Bobet. I didn’t have that kind of money. It was another French make, the Mercier, that I ordered from a bike shop in Berkely, Mich.
It wasn’t the top-of-line Mercier. There were three models and mine was one of the lower two tiers. Mafac brakes. The heavier Luxtub frame. Lyotard rat-trap pedals. Simplex shifters. Chrome fork. Hutchison sew-up tires.
It was far fancier than anything you could get at Gambles, and a beautiful light blue that pretty much resembled a robin’s egg.
All of that was three decades ago. Yesterday Colleen and I bicycled to a pair of graduation open houses and of course I was astride my Mercier.
Nathan Grieder’s open house was at the home of his grandparents’, Bob and Rosine Downing. We had an excellent time because the Price-Downing-Wood clan was all there. Children with children.
When we finally pulled ourselves away, I was standing next to my bicycle and Nate’s mother, Sabine, wanted to know how old that bike was. I told her it was from 1972 and she had faint memories of the Mercier.
Chris Wood remembered driving me to Berkely to pick it up at the bicycle store. Rosine remembered how worried I was about harming the thing, which immediately reminded me of how I broke the thing the first week I owned it.
I pedaled to Adrian to meet Chris after she got out of work at the telephone company. I was riding along the edge of U.S.-223, trying to stay out of traffic, when a big Queen Anne’s Lace got stuck in the chain and bent the derailleur.
At that point my parents weren’t very pleased with their half of the purchase. I could have gotten something sturdy at Gambles.
I was more careful after that and really had no more problems until the Canadian Maritimes bike trip three years later. Spokes kept popping under the weight and I needed to locate an anvil to make a repair. It was difficult to find in French-speaking rural Québec.
The Mercier took me a couple thousand miles that summer and it brought me back to Morenci the next summer. It followed me to Portland, Oregon, and then back to Morenci and it just keeps going.
I never worry about it being stolen because the beautiful light blue is now sort of a rusty brown. Besides, if someone got on that old Brooks seat, they probably wouldn’t last long.
More than once I’ve thought about replacing the Mercier with something modern from Will’s bike shop down the road. Instead, I recently gave it to Will for a good maintenance session and now it rides like it did 30 years ago.
I guess there will be no new mountain bike for me. I’ll stick with those skinny rims as long as they keep turning.