Eleven years ago, I wrote a story called “The Road Goes Ever On…” about “range extenders”, from my sneakers to my first bike to cars and kayaks and finally back to hiking boots. I thought it was clever for the time. I had just turned 37, was sort of feeling middle age creeping in on me. Oddly enough, I was in the best shape of my adult life, but feeling the strains of a misspent youth. I wasn’t a father, yet. That journey was still just over the horizon. It really is amazing how many things have changed in what seems like such a short time. My son just turned 10, so he has had a whole lifetime since I was reminiscing about Kangaroo’s and Mongoose. There are a lot of friends and family who are no longer with us, having extended their range into Shakespeare’s great “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns.” A lot of water under the bridge. If you look back to that post in April of ’09, I mention finding my old BMX in the back of a barn and a plan to put her back on the road again. Well, sometimes starting is the hardest part…
It has been kind of a tumultuous year. Forget about the fact that I am writing this from quarantine during a global pandemic and the challenges the entire world faces because of these “unprecedented” or “uncertain” times, I forget which descriptor we are using this month. Personally, it has been a weirdly introspective year. Maybe that happens, when you spend a lot of time around home, working on the farm, voluntarily cut off from most of the world. But, I was looking backward way before 2020 began.
Last fall, the huge oak tree I grew up playing in and under succumbed to winds and came crashing down during a massive storm. The strangest part was the huge hole it left in the treeline when you look at the house. That didn’t seem important at the time, but it was. I had been worried about it for years. It was a massive, beautiful old tree that dominated our backyard and every time a branch would break I would worry about the inevitable day when it would no longer be there, but then it would green back out and we would have another year dining and playing in it’s shelter. I had broken my arm falling out of it when I was seven, so we were old friends and I had worried about it needlessly, for a long time. When it fell, we were lucky to escape serious damage to the house, but I spent weeks cutting branches, chopping logs and cleaning up the debris. It was strangely freeing, honest work. The kind of work where you can really tell you have made a difference at the end of the day. Looking back, I enjoyed it in a way and it turned out that I needed the distraction of running a chainsaw to keep me sane and the excuse to take some time to go cut wood when I needed to escape. I had a lot to run from, while the literal storms took away our tree, my wife’s grandmother and my grandfather passed away within weeks of each other. They both had long, happy lives and passed gently in their 90’s, but it was hard for everyone. Harder for me than I wanted to admit, as I did the things that one must do in those “uncertain” times. Kinda like the tree, another constant in my life was suddenly gone and no amount of work was going to fix that. It was like listening to an old clock running down, I knew that the ticking was gonna stop, but I wasn’t ready for the hole that silence was going to leave.
One of the blessings that Pa left is his incredible workshop, any tool you can imagine and lots of space to work. Years of failing health had let the shop fall into a kind of working disrepair. Pa’s usually incredibly organized tools, parts, lubricants, odd gizmos and whatsits galore were spread all over the place, covered in a layer of grease and dust and more unsavory things. I’ll be honest, I saw this clean up as a curse. There is a lot of space and a lot of stuff and the memories of working there with him crowded in close. I spent a lot of time sitting, thinking, sometimes crying, holding a hammer I thought was lost or cleaning up a piece of equipment I helped him build. Luckily, I had some help in the form of my son who took a great interest in working in Pa’s shop. We still have a long way to go, but the main shop area is clean and the tools are mostly where they belong now. Still can’t find the metrics, but they will turn up.
With the main work area back in play, my boy wanted to find some projects for us to work on together and we have found many. He explored structural design and basic electrical concepts in a lamp he made from repurposed farm equipment parts. He has learned some rudimentary woodworking helping me make candle holders from old whiskey barrel staves. He even learned to do basic maintenance on his bike. Which is why I should not have been surprised when he asked me about that old rusty bike in the barn at my parents house.
It was a 1982 Supergoose II that my parents bought for me in central Florida, back when that was the coolest bike you could get. This full on racing bike with bright red accessories listed for a staggering $330 dollars back then and nobody had one in our entire subdivision. Lots of guys riding “regular” Mongoose and old Scwhinn Stingrays, but I had the only Supergoose in town. I loved it. There is no way to calculate how many miles clicked off under it’s red rubber tires on the streets of our subdivision the surrounding dirt bike trails, jumping into lakes, crashing into palmettos, even racing at our local BMX track. I could go anywhere, within a few miles of home, anyway. Want to go fishing on the backside of Black Lake? Grab your bike and your pole and hit the trail. Want the latest copy of DirtWheels and some Chewy Sweet Tarts? Hop on Red and head to Sparky’s. Even when I was riding 3-wheelers and dirt bikes on the trails all the time, my BMX was my “real” transportation. As cool as they were on the trail, you couldn’t ride them to the pool or on the streets to see your friends. Times changed, we moved to a more urban setting and 3-wheelers gave way to skateboards, but Red remained my primary form of transport all the way up until I started driving.
That’s a thing I have been thinking about a lot lately. How things end. One day, I laid that bike down and just never picked it up again. I didn’t feel the incredible weight of that era ending, I never even noticed the change. That is still happening and I am trying to be better about noticing. I know, that at some point, I am going to pick my son up and hold him for the last time, then he will just suddenly be too big to want to curl up with Dad. Will I notice? Probably not, another moment lost like Roy Batty’s “tears in the rain.” I knew when I told MawMaw goodbye. I knew when I let go of Pa’s hand for the last time, but it was clear, that moment had weight. How many of those things slip away from us without a pause? Perhaps, it is a blessing to be able to take so many things for granted.
Red got leaned up in the garage and probably moved from time to time. Going from a trusted friend to something that was sort of in the way. A tire went flat, the chain rusted. At some point, probably while I was away in college, Red got moved to behind the garden shed where the weeds grew up around her, for a decade or so. I found her one afternoon and cut her out of the weeds, and moved her back into a barn, promising to fix her…one day. And twenty more years slipped away.
So when the boy asked about that old rusty bike, I knew it was time. We pulled her out and began the way I do every project, on paper. I’ve been trying to teach the boy to make your first mistakes where an eraser can fix them, and you will still make plenty of mistakes along the way. So, we made a list of what we knew needed to replace, what we thought we could save and what we didn’t know about yet. We agreed to keep her as original as was practical, but not to go crazy, since I had upgraded stuff back in the day so she wasn’t all original to start with. I did some research and tracked the serial number to discover that she was manufactured in January of 1982, despite her 1981 copyright sticker and found some old advertisements to show the kid what we were aiming for.
Then it was on to parts and we needed a bunch of stuff. Our first list was pretty extensive, every bearing was shot, new tires, tubes and liners, brake cable and pads, new seat, grips and donuts, seat clamps and lots of odds and ends. Luckily, I discovered a shop in Georgia that specializes in old school parts, Porkchop BMX. They were a blessing, lots of things I needed at good prices and they tirelessly answered my stupid questions to make sure I got the parts I needed. They even had the original style red tires with skinwalls, in the two different sizes this bike came with. Yeah, the front and rear tires are different widths, from the factory.
With parts on the way, we disassembled the entire bike down to the frame. I had never done that before, but with some YouTube time we had her stripped down fairly quickly. This is a lie, it took way longer than expected. This bike is a little over 38 years old, somewhere between 15-20 of those years out in the elements. It’s a testimony to the original quality of this bike that there was anything left to rebuild. To the best of my recollection the most recent that seat post could’ve been adjusted would be 1987. Those extended posts were always tight and hard to move, so imagine that with 33 years of rust built up. Same with the forks, same with the crank, every simple job turned into an ordeal. A bike teardown, which should take any kid half an hour, took us days, as we carefully documented which bearing came off in which order. Figuring out whether we just collapsed a rusty internal washer or if that was just hardened grease. To be fair, our limited experience, made things tougher than they should have been, but rust is rust.
With the bike in pieces, we made war on that rust. Starting with a vinegar bath for the frame, forks, bars, crank and assorted small parts. A big tub, 6-7 gallons of white vinegar and 24 hours later we were ready to get to work. The vinegar bath knocked out a surprising amount of surface rust, so after giving her a good rinse, we began the real work. Using only aluminum foil and water we went to town on the remaining rust. This is always amazing. The foil is harder than the rust, but softer than the chromoly, plus it reacts with the rust to help remove it. It takes a lot of elbow grease but you can really get in the cracks and crannies and make that old chrome shine. I was truly shocked to see some of the parts come back to life.
With everything looking shiny, we moved on to bearings. Like everything else on these old bikes, there isn’t a lot of information available when it comes to parts like this. The guys at Porkchop BMX were lifesavers here, determining that my 28T crank needed a particular bottom bracket kit, helping identify the difficult to replace (and therefore must be rebuilt) shimano quick change rear sprocket cassette, figuring out which headset this bike used and suggesting a new stem, closer to the style that originally came on the bike. Seriously, this project would’ve ground to a halt without them.
There was a lot, I mean a lot of trial and error, rebuilding the headset and bottom bracket, trying to use as many of the old parts as possible while stealing new bits from the kits. Same goes with the wheels, I had never built hubs with loose bearings, but YouTube got us through it. Which brought us to the big question, what were we gonna do with the sun bleached wheels? I grabbed a spoke wrench and was shocked to find I was able to tighten them back into shape. After doing so much to rebuild them, Liam and I decided to throw caution to the wind and try our hand at painting them with some specialty anodized coating paint. Two days of thin coats later and we were ready to build up the wheels and reassemble the bike.
It was truly amazing watching her come back together. Teaching the boy how to install the tubes and tires, how to break and build the chain. Showing him how to install new hand grips using air and making sure he put nickels in the bottom first, and teaching him why. (It is so the open bar ends don’t cut holes in your grip ends when you throw the bike down.) We skipped installing the brake cable, because for most of my time riding she never had one. I pulled it off for some reason in ’82 and just never put it back on, so for the inaugural run it felt right to leave it off. Watching him air up the tires to spec and handing it over to me for the first ride. I can admit, it was kind of a nervous moment for me. I haven’t been on this bike in over 30 years. I ride mountain bikes now and I am way too big for a BMX, but with my wingman on his modern era Mongoose, we took off, making a slow ride around the driveway, checking that everything was working. After one lap, I turned the reins over to my little test pilot, who put her through her paces.
Satisfied that the build was gonna hold, we polished her up one more time and turned her over to my wife for the final touch. The factory correct replica stickers, all the way down to the copyright date. I have just got to say that it is kinda awesome that these were even available. Honestly, I had scraped the Supergoose sticker and the fork stickers off of mine years ago, and wasn’t going to worry about them until I saw these gorgeous repros. Another big tip of the hat to BMX Products for making these and so many more available. It’s one thing to make a standard set, but another entirely to make sure that the correct ones for each year are out there. Big thanks for making her look new again.
So, there you have it. Red lives, she rides again. There was a strange kind of satisfaction watching my son riding around the yard. He hasn’t figured out that we rebuilt her for him, yet. But he knows he was a part of something that mattered to me, keeping that promise. Watching him ride, I could see myself, back thought those years. I could see the boy who learned to pack bearings in Pa’s workshop. The little boy learned how to use those tools under his guidance, grown now, passing that knowledge on to his son, one generation to another, as it should be. The wheel comes round again, turning full circle.