Monday, April 22, 2013

Today I Met The Grey Bearded Biker

Cold steel, the bike doesn’t have bar tape.  I’ve lived in Cincinnati’s Columbia Tusculum neighborhood for four years and for four years on my commute in to downtown I’ve seen Grey Beard at least weekly riding in the opposite direction.  All year round, his outfit never seems to change: thick dark hoodie, weathered overalls, leather gloves, no helmet.  Some days I’m in my truck, other days I’m on a bike too.  Unbeknownst to him, occasionally we pass at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse, other days St. Rose Church always on Riverside Drive.  He rolls his drive side pants leg up, exposing a light tan leather boot top.  On colder days his messy crop of grey hair occasionally peeks from under a knit hat.  His unmistakable grey beard always catches the wind.  I met him today, it figures, at Starbucks.

Who is this guy who rides away from downtown on a beater at 8:15am?

Cincinnati’s East End and Columbia Tusculum neighborhoods along the riverfront are mixed.  3- 700 thousand dollar houses share the road with modest apartments and dilapidated structures eligible for the “We Buy Ugly Houses” people.  A barge/rail terminal sits adjacent to this month’s latest fire victim and next month’s new condo.  In this mix of wealth and poverty, industry and small business, luxury and staples, on any given Saturday morning a guy carrying a 12-pack under his arm while one-handing a beater mountain bike gets passed by a jogger with $150 shoes and an iPhone strapped to her upper arm.  I’d be stereotyping if both the guy with the 12-pack and the jogger weren’t my neighbors.  To each their own.  Question is where does Grey Beard fit in?

From the fleeting seconds I’ve seen Grey Beard from my truck at 35mph, the 25 year old relic of a bike looks like it was picked from the recycling pile behind the bike shop.  It’s a dirty purple, maybe maroon, with down tube shifters and platform pedals, sort of like the one pictured without the racks.  The seat post is low, but fits his legs.  The bars are turned down and he’s stretched out.  His hands engulf the small hoods, brake lever and all.  All-that aside, he rides with remarkable speed, confidence and form: knees in, back low, beard in the breeze.  What intrigues me the most about this oddity is the lock and chain knotted around the bars and quill stem.  He obviously cares about the bike. 

It's no surprise.  He said he got the bike from a friend’s shed for nothing.  I met him today for the first time at Starbucks, of all places.  I held the door for him as he walked in behind me and struck up a conversation.  “Hey.  I see you nearly every week on my way to work.”  Well spoken, he says he’s almost home.  He works overnights downtown.  He’s on his way home when I’m on my way to work.  He is a neighbor and the bike is an old Miyata.  He invested $250 into it to keep it alive.  Up close, aside from being weathered, the bike sports newer tires.  The cables, saddle, and wheels seem to be in decent shape.  It’s solid vintage steel.  He says he knows his bike isn’t pretty, but it gets the job done, 12 miles a day. 

He asked if I ride and what kind of bike I have.  “I ride a Kuota" clarifying, "an Italian bike.”  I kick myself thinking I was too pretentious with the Italian comment, but he asks if it’s one of those “really light ones.”  "Yep.  It’s carbon fiber.”  Half expecting a roll of the eyes, he says something like, “Man, I just love the brakes on those newer bikes.”  I mention how well they modulate speed.  He understands.  He’s genuinely interested talking bikes.  We're clicking, but the barista was too quick.  My coffee is ready.  Sadly, I didn't have time for a picture.  “Have a good day,” I say.

As I pull my big dumb SUV out of the lot on Earth Day, the Starbucks door swings open.   With coffee in hand, he walks toward his Miyata, now appearing much cooler than the first time I had seen it.  My roof rack catches his eye and he waves.  Affirming, I wave back.  We’re two bike guys, one punching in, the other punching out.

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