A Bicycling Life
Jim Robinson
San Francisco, 2007

In 1966 I started riding my first bike--16" with coaster brakes--to Tamaques Elementary School in Westfield NJ.

In the summer of 1968 my parents were working at Oleana Summer Camp in West Copake, NY. The camp had a pile of 26" Sears bikes with lugged steel frames and Sturmey-Archer 3 speed hubs rusting in a barn. I built my first "grownup" bike from that pile. It was way too big for me, but I rode it by sitting on the top tube. I built a similar one for my younger brother, but with a mixte frame. (NB, bicycle sizes as I remember them then were always the nominal wheel diameter, not the frame size.) I maintained a small fleet for the rest of the camp staff that summer. The owners were so impressed that I'd made anything work out of that pile they gave Carl and me the two bikes we'd been riding to keep. I rode that Sears bike all around Westfield NJ and to many neighborhood bike race victories over the newer shinier "faster" Stingrays my friends had.

Around 1970 we moved to Trenton NJ, where I had my first paper route with the Trentonian. I eventually broke the frame on the Sears bike the 3rd or 4th time I ran into the back of a parked car (surprisingly easy to do at 5:00am riding into freezing rain with a sack full of newspaper.)

I read Eugene Sloane's "Complete Book of Bicycling," and started thinking maybe these fancy 10 speed "English racers" had something to offer over my trusty 3 speed. My folks offered matching funds to replace the grievously bent and cracked Sears bike. I was seriously coveting a Paramount, but even at half price (as it were) they were out of reach at around $600. The guy at the Schwinn shop had also expressed a great deal of reluctance selling me a Paramount to "beat up" carrying newspapers. Instead, I bought a red Schwinn Sports Tourer (CroMo, fillet brazed, beautiful) for about $200 in 1975. It came with a Brooks B17, and I've not since found any saddle I like better.

I had a buddy down the street who was also into building things. He and I built lighting systems with bottle generators, NiCad D cells, big chrome bullet headlights, and tiny model railroad lights set into the saddle bag for turn signals. His had an ammeter so he could tell if he was charging his batteries or not.

Moved to North Brunswick in 1976. I organized a bunch of rides and camping trips with my Boy Scout troop (Troop 18, rah! rah! rah!), rode to work at the Ginzberg factory in New Brunswick, and rode to my job at Everybody's Bike Shop in East Brunswick. I never did have much use for lights or fenders or really any accessory save a rear rack and a saddle bag, but my boss at the bike shop made me buy a light since I was riding home after dark. I got one of those flashlights that take 2 C cells and strap to your leg, showing white in front and red in the back.

Moved to Flour Bluff TX in 1977 and used the Schwinn to tow my lawnmower to houses my mom's real estate company was wanting to sell, so I could knock down the big weeds that would grow there.

During my 4 years in the Army I didn't ride much, but I toted that Schwinn around in my VW Bus. I did once ride my unicycle across Fayetteville NC to impress a girl. She was impressed, but I couldn't pee for a week.

Started college at Texas A&M in 1983. I kept my unicycle locked up at the Memorial Student Center; I'd ride the Schwinn to school from off campus and exchange it for the unicycle (which I rode around campus and took into class.)

Motorcycles started to compete with bicycles for my road miles in college. I transferred to UT Austin in '85 and stayed there through law school. I'd ride the bicycle when the weather was nice and my book load small, but often it was the BMW R75/5. After graduation I bought a used Trek 720 at University Cyclery (the later TIG welded 'cross' bike, not the superswanky lugged bike) with a frame closer to the right size. (The Schwinn was sort of small.)

I moved to San Francisco in 2000 and donated the Schwinn to the Austin Yellow Bike program. 25 years, uncounted miles and abuses, still entirely serviceable. I hope it is still on the road getting somebody from here to there today.

I rode the Trek around the city a bit, but did not really get back into being serious about bikes until my company did well and left me some money ahead in 2002. On impulse I had picked up a beautiful green Brooks B17 at American Cyclery. I started looking for something nicer than the Trek to put it on, found Rivendell on the internet, and bought an Atlantis. I've never been one of those riders who can distinguish Reynolds 531 from Columbus SL (or gas pipe, for that matter) from the ride, but, wow, I love the way this bike rides maybe even more than that Sears or the Schwinn!

I started working in town (instead of 30 miles down 101) and biking to work. Barring some ugly economic disaster, I will never again have a job I can't reach by bicycle. It cracks me up to hear people talk about how awful it is to ride in San Francisco. Compared to 1970s Trenton, 1980s Flour Bluff, or 1990s Austin, this is a bicycle paradise: the drivers are nicer, the bikes are better, and the weather is perfect. And I loved riding in Trenton.

So, yeah, I have been riding to work, riding as work, and riding for the sheer love of riding for about 40 years.

And I've found Critical Mass. While there are certainly jerks who ride Critical Mass, I find it overwhelmingly joyful. I hope to keep on riding in it for a long time to come. I love seeing all those energetic kids with their tattoos and their resurrected '70s frames and fixed gears and bad attitudes. I love seeing all the drivers who take it in stride, who smile and laugh and wave. I love seeing the downtown tourists hold their cameras over their heads to get a shot of the madness to show the folks back home, where life is just a little less fabulous than here in San Francisco.

Jim Robinson