Imagine going back in time to 1984 and coming across a proud owner of a state of the art new bicycle and telling them that in 26 years it would be obsolete. That’s pretty much what I did yesterday.
I didn’t have a time machine; I met a guy named Fred. A little back-story: For about a month I’ve had the idea of doing a loaded self-supported tour in the back of my mind. I’ve been looking around for a deal on a touring bike or frame to build up, and I’ve been thinking that probably somewhere in Harrisburg there is somebody with a late model touring bike hung upside down that would nearly give it away if they thought someone out there would use it.
That’s where Fred came in, I was waiting for my wife to finish up some business at her parents house and Fred comes by and noticed the panniers I’ve rigged up on my old road bike. They just don’t look right he probably thinks, that’s because they are motorcycle saddlebags that I got at a Goodwill store, and that short chain stay road bike isn’t made to accommodate Panniers. It doesn’t have a single accessory amount other then bottle cages. Where do the fenders go?
Fred and I get to talking and he invites me over to check out his old touring bike. I find out that Fred got into touring Gung-Ho, as he repeats several times, in the late 70s when everyone was excited about the Bicentennial Transamerica Trail. He did several short rides and tours on department store ten speeds for a few years. He got a bit braver and tried riding over the Appalachians in 1983. While he was praying for death on the Blue Ridge Parkway he made the decision that if he survived he would buy a “top of the line” bicycle.
Fred survived and bought a 1984 Cannondale ST400 touring bike with racks and panniers. It was “top of the line” he told me again and the next year he embarked to ride across the United States on the Transamerica trail. Unfortunately his trip was cut short when he crashed and broke his hip in Missouri. He didn’t touch the bike for years and lost all interest in riding and bicycle technology. He promised he’d only rode it a few times on bike trails since he had that crash, the dry rotted tires and thick coat of dust proved it.
I thought this bike would be exactly what I wanted but several factors changed my mind. The most obvious one was that it’s a 56 and I like 58s. Fred told me I was wrong and that it was a 22 inch. I tried explaining about sizing bikes with the metric system but that didn’t get me anywhere. The next problem was that the wheels were 27 inch and pretty much all road bikes run 700C, again that was a dead end with Fred who couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t want to use the wheels that were on it. The next problem was that it is equipped with down tube friction shifters, something that is hard to adjust to when you are used to indexed shifting at your fingertips. Finally the biggest problem was the rear hub spacing is 126mm which would be no problem on a steel bike, you just stretch out the stays, but on a Cannondale aluminum touring bike that isn’t going to happen.
Fred did his best to make the sale, he explained that the frame was made from aluminum which was what all the best bikes were made from, he explained that the hubs had a new kind of bearing that was sealed to prevent contaminants from seeping in. He explained how perfect it was for loaded touring, he had perfectly preserved magazine articles where the bike had been given a top notch review. He had all the paperwork and receipts. He threw in his panniers, which were covered in patches from all the tours he had completed. I honestly almost bought it just for those, they were amazingly cool. He even planned to knock off some money since the tires were dry rotted.
I explained to Fred I couldn’t buy his bike because it wasn’t compatible with modern equipment. He couldn’t wrap his head around this, “This bike is top of the line, why would you want to change the components.” I tried explained about hub spacing and index STI shifting and 30 speed drive trains, but it was like I was speaking another language, Fred just didn’t get it. Even though I didn’t end up buying the bike it was a real pleasure to meet Fred, he had great stories and a unique perspective of someone who has not paid a bit attention to the encroachment of racing technology into all aspects of bikes. The fact is that I could probably have bought that bike, moved the saddle back and replaced the short stem and had a really capable touring bike that would last me the rest of my life. As Fred said, once top of the line, always top of the line.