Antediluvian Bicycle Railfanning

On weekends, but only when the weather is good, the country roads surrounding Wx4's headquarters are awash with lime green or bright fuchsia Spandex-attired metrosexual men / women (sometimes we can't tell which) chuffing along on their $4000, 33 ounce bicycles that use Space Age materials originally developed for NASA's Uranus Probe, or something.

Like so many activities in America these days, the point of bicycling seems to be more fashion statement, less activity. We're guessing that your average urban cyclist, after spending several hours primping the look' and pimping the ride, actually spends about twenty minutes on the road before sitting down to the New York Times and a cup of chai tea at the local Starbucks patio. Were The Starbucks to evaporate, these people would be lost...and they would have no live forum to discuss exotic technical gear and this Spring's new styles in Spandex.

All of this makes we Wx4 staffers feel ancient, because we figuratively / literally are unable / unwilling to fit the demo'. We are repulsed by Spandex (which is good, since portly people in Spandex stretch the limits of poor taste); chai tea reminds us of dishwater; and we'd rather invest $4000 in something more utilitarian, say another Willys station wagon.

But, yes sir by crackie, back in our halcyon heyday, before the suburban Spandex blight befouled our weekend landscape, and even before the great flood of cyclists that took part in the great cross-country Bicentennial Bike-a-thon in 1976, we did have our go.

wife Alice (1/2 of Wx4 staff at the time) showcases our gear at Clare, Michigan

In early Summer 1974, with our $500 life savings + the change in our pockets, Wx4 staff (at the time, this meant myself and my svelte young wife, Alice), headed-out cross country on untested $100, 33 pound (not ounce) Peugeot ten-speeds. These suckers were so cheap that they had plastic derailers, bikefans. Yep, we would have loved to have some chrome-moly wonders with all-Shimano whatchamajiggers, but we obviously, we were so poor that we couldn't afford fleas for the dog that we left behind (rim shot, please).

We were also ignorant. Until late in our journey, we had no idea that cycling could be a statement about how cool we were. Possibly this was because at the time we were fringe-element hippies who thought that cool was uncool, but frankly at this late date, I don't know, because I'm too busy keeping track of what day it is. What I do know is that only the genuinely naive would embark upon a cross-country bicycle trip with plastic derailers and expect to make the other end. We didn't think coats would be necessary, either.

So, about 6200 miles later, we looked-up a bicycle shop in Oswego, New York to make a final replenishment of inner tubes. There, behind the counter , was a fantastic guy, Wells Horton ( of the Cutchogue Hortons - you may have heard of them). Wells was our kind of guy - after querying us for about forty-five minutes, he decided to quit his job and tour New England with us.

Wells' thing about bicycles was sprint racing. He could beat the heck out of most competitors ...for about 100 yards. Thus, our experience with him went thus: on downhills he would fly by us on his exotic magnadinium-frame steed with the sew-up tires and disappear far ahead. Twenty minutes later, Alice and I would encounter, and pass him, at the first hill. Sixty-two-hundred miles of conditioning really counted for something. On flatways, Wells absolutely left us for dead. Then, a couple of hours later, we would note him on the roadside patching one of his microscopically thin tires, pass him, and have a short snooze under a tall tree while we waited for him to catch up.

He was one of them to be sure, but considering everything, he still was a great guy.

Awhile after we hooked up with Wells - somewhere in Vermont, I think - we ran across a bicycle tourist headed the other way. This was a novelty for us, since we hadn't encountered one since the two lesbians on California's north coast. Wells, the personable guy that he was (and hopefully is - where are you, buddy?), struck up a lengthy conversation about touring and technical gear. It wasn't long before Alice and I saw that we were excluded from the discussion. Moreover, we realized that this guy was pointedly ignoring us. Perhaps if Wells had noted that we Wx4'ers had already managed 6000+ miles with plastic derailers, Mr. Pro Cyclist would have given us a perfunctory nod, despite the extra-large boxes of Tide and Cheerios bungeed to our panniers., but no - we didn't exist.

We had a good laugh after, at the time. Pro-guy was on his way to complete a 250 mile weekend ride and thereby achieve eligibility for nomination to the Bicycle Hall of Fame. Big whoopie! We had toughed it out on, again, plastic derailers and a $5-per-day budget, which meant allot of beans. In retrospect, maybe it was the beans...

Now, thirty-odd years later, this encounter still grates on us. How dare he, the young whippersnapper! Why can't people just accept and love others for what they are, after all? And on behalf of all of the Untermenchen out there, we say that you arrogant cyclists really suck!

So, now you say: What in the heck does this discussion have to do with railfanning? Well, let us say this about that:

  1. Spandex has no place in railfanning.
  2. Chasing trains via bicycle just doesn't work out.

C&O Railway/Ferries in MichiganmmmWx4 Grab Bag