Sunday, November 9, 2008
Penelope the mongrel
The next bike I owned was salvaged from our backyard junk pile. I am not sure where she came from, but I saw potential in her red curves and fat tires. She was an old 1969-ish Schwinn Hollywood, girl's model, and I named her Penelope. I am not sure where my Sting Ray had gotten to at this point, maybe I sold it.
Anyway, I modified my new bike with a banana seat—a must for that dirt bike aura—and some BMX handlebars I mail ordered from a magazine. This was 1972 and BMX was still in it's infancy. I remember being super excited to find some bars with a real crossbar just like the motorcycles I dreamed about. I also ordered some motocross-type grips, and I even managed to find some knobby tires for the 26" rims.
Armed with these mods and a 12-year-old's imagination I was on my way to real motocross. One of my favorite after school activities was to ride in the field by my house. The area we grew up in, Holladay, still had a few vacant tracts of land and it was here I spent many hours in search of entertainment. There were several ridges running downhill from the top end of the field down to the bottom, with trails running along these ridges. The soil was rather sandy, making it almost impossible to ride up the trails. But a few minutes of pushing uphill rewarded me with some precious seconds of downhill racing, shredding the turns, foot out and sliding.
One Saturday I found an old car hood out in the field. It was perfectly shaped with a wide flat back and peaked at the front, just made to serve a moto crazy kid some air time. I placed this hood at the top of a small uphill that was at the end of one of my downhill trails. This made for a great finish to the fast downhill run as you carried just enough speed from the downhill to crest the small hill and boost that car hood to major air. I was loving it.
I was getting off the ground a couple of feet maybe, but it felt to me like some major hang time. One particular pass at the car hood, after executing a bitchen jump, I experienced a hard landing that folded my frame (it was a girl's bike with no top tube) and sent the cranks downward and dragging on the ground. Not good for performance. I walked Penelope back home and set about brainstorming a fix. Being a resourceful kid, and having a genius for a big brother, a solution for the bent frame was soon found. We used a car jack to straighten the frame, and a piece of steel tubing resurrected from the back yard junk pile was inserted to serve as a top tube. Some steel putty and duct tape secured the new part in place, and viola!
This bike was fun to ride downhill because the 26" wheels carried momentum. Penelope was a silly bike by any standard, but she took many victories over the Sting Rays owned by my friends. When I got those big wheels rolling along, watch out! They say necessity is the mother of invention, and this bike brought this concept home to me. I began to learn about creative fixes, performance modifications, desire to succeed and the first thrills of winning races on this bike, so it will always hold special memories for me.