Owning a women’s bike shop is, for me, a dream come true. Although it is a business, my underlying goal is to show women how glorious riding a bike can be! To help them see that a bike can give you freedom and a means to explore the world around you.
It’s no secret that I love bikes. I have many. I love to ride them all. But I can’t say that I have a special connection with any one in particular. Yes, I have my first road bike, and my first carbon bike, but none of them speak to me more than the others.
A few weeks ago there was a woman standing at my door with a great vintage Raleigh. It brought back memories of my childhood in England, riding around on old steel passed down from my uncles and older cousins, with all leather saddles, made of Reynolds tubing, more held together by rust than anything else, traveling from village to village all day long picking up friends for adventure. This wasn’t some Jane Austen film, this was England in the 70’s, still a very provincial time in that country. A time before the internet and cable TV when all you had as a child was imagination and the freedom those two wheels provided.
The Raleigh’s owner, now in her sixties, told me how she had purchased the bike in 1973, how she rode it up and down the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles, how she used to hit 50mph and dreamed of being a racer, even though, in her words, “girls didn’t really do that sort of thing”.
Story upon story spilled from her memory of the adventures she had on the bike. I took them all in.
But what could I do to help her today?
She told me she no longer felt stable on the bike and that she wondered if I could do anything to help. I gave the Raleigh a quick once over – perfectly clean, no rust, new tires – it seemed fine. So would it be ok if I rode it to see if it was shifting well? She said yes and I got on.
Amazingly the bike fit me perfectly. No need to change the saddle height or ride standing up. As I pushed the pedals I felt the bike take off beneath me and suddenly I was flying, big grin on my face, remembering all those rides as a kid. The feeling of vintage steel under me, and Campagnolo components shifting smooth as silk was amazing. There was NOTHING wrong with this bike.
When I returned to the shop I found the owner crying. She told me that it made her sad that she could no longer ride the bike with the joy I had. That seeing a big smile on my face reminded her of her youth which now felt lost. She had loved to ride her bike but had not felt that way in years. We spoke about getting her on something more upright to make her feel more stable, her goals for riding, and what would be right for her at this stage in life. I sent her out on a couple of test rides, gave her a catalog, and she was on her way. She was going to think about it.
The next morning I came to the shop to find her at my door again, Raleigh in hand. She told me she had decided to order one of the bikes we spoke about, but that she wanted me to have her old Raleigh. It deserved to be ridden the way she once had – with love and sense of adventure – as she knew I would. Fighting back tears, I told her I could not take her bike. When she insisted, I said I would take it as part of a trade in for her new bike but $200 was all she would take.
I am sure it’s worth much more, but I will never sell it. Despite a fleet of bikes, that one vintage Raleigh means more to me than any other. It is the representation of a dream come true – for me – to put a woman on a bike and introduce her to the love riding again, for her – old memories turned in to new.
Since that time, the woman with the Raleigh and I have become fast friends. She rides in on her new bike to check on her old one. She finds parts that she remembers she still had (the original silca frame pump! old cycling caps!) and brings them to me. She asks if I have ridden it and we joke about how I can’t really use toe clips but feel like I have to to be legit. Every time she visits there is story telling and hugs and then we part – two women in love with the same vintage Raleigh.
By Lisa Kanno – Owner The Unlikely Cyclist – Orange County, CA