Thursday, June 3, 2010

The story of how the Nolan became Maria Divina: Part I

The tax code in this country is not designed to benefit those of us who don't solely or primarily work a typical 9-5er, i.e. musicians, independent contractors, etc. I am 28 years old and have never received a refund...until this year. You can imagine my excitement when I realized I was going to have a nice fat (well, fat for me, anyway, I'm not even sure what a typical tax refund is) refund check coming my way. I decided to be frivolous for once and treat myself to a new bike.

As my interest in biking has grown over the past several years, the idea of a custom-made bike has started looming large in my already overactive imagination. Clearly, this was the time to make that fantasy a reality. I went downstairs to my favorite LBS (local bike shop) Brooklyn Bike & Board to talk to Brian, the owner, about building me a bike. We discussed the various options and I went merrily on my way, off to scour craigslist and local flea markets for a frame that would work.

After about a week or two, and without much luck finding a frame, I was having my regular Saturday morning chat with my Papa and telling him about my plan to build a bike. He agreed that it was a great idea and asked if I remembered the story of his bike. I said I did vaguely, but would gladly hear the story again--my dad tells great stories and I never tire of hearing them.

If you're not sure if you've met my dad before, then you probably haven't. He's hard to forget. My friend Steve has always said he looks like Ernest Hemingway and apparently his mother, my grandmother who I sadly never knew, used to say the same thing. He's very distinguished. And very tall that he had a bike custom-built for him back in the 70s because he couldn't find a standard model big enough for him. He read an article about this guy who worked at Trek, which was just starting out at the time, who lived in Sun Prairie, WI and built bikes on the side. So, my dad just called him up and asked if he could build him a bike.

My dad had been riding an old Schwinn at the time with the seat jacked way up and wanted a bike that would fit him properly. The framebuilder said sure and a short while later, my dad drove the five hours down to Sun Prairie to pick up the bike. He was living with my mother in the Twin Cities at the time, so he took it back up there and mounted it on the wall in her garage.

A week later the bike was stolen. I don't know what kind of idiot thief took this bike or how he even rode it away. He must have been a giant--the frame was SEVENTY-SEVEN centimeters. For those of you who don't know bikes, that's laughably huge. Most people don't believe me when I tell them it was that big, but I swear it's the truth. I remember that bike as a kid, and the thing was practically bigger than I was.

So, my dad called up the framebuilder again, told him what happened, and asked if he could build him another bike. The kicker was that he needed it in two weeks because he was due to go on a bike trip with his group of friends that routinely took bike trips across the upper Midwest. Amazingly, the framebuilder said he could do it. (Somehow I doubt it would've been that easy in this day and age.)

Two weeks later, my dad was off to Door County on this bike (well, plus wheels):

And he's had it ever since. We went on many bike trips with it when I was little. I vividly remember one in Minnesota or Wisconsin (maybe to Trempealeau?) when I accidentally ran into him and somehow he crashed but I was totally fine. He had the hugest black eye--I felt awful. It's a long way to fall from the saddle of a 77 cm bike! I've had my own fair share of crashes since, not to worry.

Back to Brooklyn. So, I hung up the phone and started telling my roommate the story of my dad's bike when I stopped mid-sentence with as much of a light bulb moment as I've ever had. What if someone could resize my dad's frame for me? Take it apart, shorten the tubes and put it back together. How cool would that be? I mean, really, how special would that be to ride around on the bike that was built for my dad, who was the one who taught me to love biking in the first place? My dad doesn't ride it anymore (he's 80) so what was going to happen to it otherwise? It seemed a shame to let such a cool bike go to waste. In one of my typical bursts of spontaneity, I called my dad back right away and asked him what he thought. He agreed that it was a neat idea and said the bike was mine, if I could find someone to take on the project.

Thus began the wild goose chase.

To be continued...

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