Classics like the Parkway and my Waterford bicycle belong together
The dogwood leaves are beginning to turn. They are always among the first along the Parkway. Everything else is green, but the dogwoods are an autumn shade of red. The rest will follow soon enough, along with the traffic – but that’s ok. After all, it is a parkway.
As you probably know it’s one of the best places in America to ride a bike -the Blue Ridge Parkway – and on this crystal clear 70-degree morning, with the dogwoods just beginning to turn, I’m especially happy to be here, in this place, on this bike.
I’m riding my steel bike. A 21-year-old Waterford. It was my first real bike, and after many years of splitting time gathering dust in the garage, and locked onto the trainer, it’s been given a new life, and I can’t believe how beautiful it feels.
My plan had been to hang a bunch of used parts on the bike, which despite their age would still be an improvement over the original mid-90’s vintage Ultegra 600 group. In a pinch I thought, this bike could still be ridable.
As I set out to ride the Parkway this day, I did not expect the bike be so smooth, to shift so crisply, to follow such predictable lines into the turns. I paid almost no attention to the speedometer on my regular lunch hour loop, which climbs 1,400 feet over 15 miles. When I got home, I was surprised to find my time within seconds of a typical ride on my new, super light, super stiff carbon fiber Guerciotti. In fact, I was very surprised.
I had ordered the Waterford in September, 1994 From Cardinal Bicycle in Roanoke. While not quite a custom bike, the shop and I agreed on the Ultegra group, took some of my measurements and sent them off to the factory. During the next few weeks, I actually spoke on the phone a couple of times to Richard Schwinn of Schwinn/Paramount bicycles fame. (Paramount became Waterford.) We talked about my custom paint job and whether I wanted clear coat. I thought I did. He convinced me it would make the bike weigh more. He was cycling royalty. I was but a pauper. No clear coat.
My road bikes until that time had been a hodgepodge of used bikes. I bought an old Bianchi from a co-worker for $100. It had been gathering dust in a back room at work. Another was an aluminum Schwinn, that was so stiff I swear I could feel vibrations from gravel on the other side of the road. These bikes had been heavy, didn’t fit me well, and suffered from aging technology.
The Waterford was a game changer. Not only did it have custom paint, but I would be clipping in for the first time. The bike was about 21 pounds – light for its day. With my new STI shifters I would be able to change gears from the brake hoods instead of the down tube. And there on the left chain stay, the factory was painting my name.
The bike arrived in late November. Christmas literally a month early. Mary and the kids traveled north to visit family for Thanksgiving, leaving me and my new bike to celebrate Thanksgiving. It must have been divine providence because the weather turned unseasonably warm and sunny with no wind. We don’t get many of these days in late November in the mountains of southwest Virginia.
So I went for a ride from my then home in Rocky Mount over Ferrum Mountain, through the campus of Ferrum College and back. It was a 25-mile loop. I did it regularly then, but that was about the most I did. 35-miles was considered a really long ride back then.
And so I transitioned to the world of real bikes. Somewhere along the way, I became a marathon runner, but I did much of my training on the bike. I took a great deal of pride whenever I could show up riding this bicycle with its unique red and black paint job, fancy gearing and of course, my name.
As the years went by, other guys started showing up on titanium bikes, and carbon fiber started to become a legitimate option. The Waterford held its own for over a decade, but gradually the voice in the back of my head said it was time to move on.
It happened in one fell swoop the day I made the impulse decision to buy a new carbon and aluminum Schwinn, with Dura-Ace and top of the line FSA components. (You can read all about the bike here).
Though I knew I would never part with the Waterford, it was relegated to the back of the garage. I rode it occasionally, but only when the Schwinn was in the shop, or maybe it was raining. In winter I would affix the Waterford to my antique trainer and spin away the rubber on the rear tire. It didn’t matter because the bike was not going to be seeing pavement anytime soon. Eventually I loaned the trainer and the bike to my son, and I thought it might be gone for good. No worries, it had served me well.
Then earlier this year, the Schwinn died. The guys at East Coasters bike shop told me the frame was not safe, the bonds between the aluminum and carbon were coming undone. Hmmmm, I thought.
“How much of that Dura-Ace stuff can I transfer from that bike to that one?” I asked. After all, the Waterford is about 12 years older than the Schwinn.
After some head scratching, it was decided that most of it could. The Ksyrium Wheels would go to my wife’s one year old Trek – but I would put her wheels on the Waterford – along with the Dura-Ace/FSA brakes and drivetrain. The modern head set and handlebars from the Schwinn would replace the original quill style stem and bars.
After about 4 weeks of chemical soaking, twisting, pulling and cajoling, the team at East Coasters was able to finally remove the head set and fork which had set up with 20 years’ worth of rust. They called to say they had made the changes and that I could pick up my new, old bike. The process had cost about $400.
(MORE BLOG BELOW PHOTO)
I dug out an old pair of Look pedals, found some old shoes with red cleats and set off on my regular course. I had forgotten that feeling that only comes from a steel bike. I can’t describe it exactly, but the word complaint comes to mind. Road vibrations disappeared, and yet when I stood on the pedals to hammer up a hill, it was there for me. Maybe not quite like the rocket that is my new carbon bike — but not bad either. Not like-21-years old bad. The nearly 10-year old Dura-Ace parts felt even better on the Waterford. Shifting was clean and precise. The brakes worked better than ever. It felt like all the world, like I was riding a brand new bike.
I immediately resolved that it deserved a new carbon fiber seat post to replace the scarred aluminum one. It needs a new saddle and lighter pedals. This is not a bike that should be gathering dust in the back of the garage. This bike deserves to be ridden.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that I’m riding it again in fall. I’m not sure what 21 is in bike years — but it’s probably not the spring of its life. Of course, I’m not as young as I was when the bike was new. But I haven’t slowed down that much, and thankfully, neither has the Waterford.