Jun 05 , 2020
Self portrait 1986
The question “what was your first real bike?” can usually conjure up epic memories. Freedom and the sense of adventure are two that may come flooding into the memory banks as this question shakes the cerebral cobwebs. Or maybe it is that gnarly crash that left the scars on your body and mind. Either way, the words “first real bike” are something most folks will recall with a smile and vivid flashbacks. It boils down to the bike that you cherished no matter if it were when the training wheels finally came off, or the first time you held the curves of a drop bar bike, or maybe the mountain bike that opened your heart to the trails.
My white AMF (l) and My brother (r) on the blue Raleigh Record, 1975.
My “first real bike” was not mine, it was my brothers. On Christmas day in 1974, we awoke in awe to find two 10 speeds under the tree. The jolly one had left a white AMF 24 inch wheeled 10 speed with my name on it, however, what caught my attention was my elder brother’s bounty, which was a 27 inch blue Raleigh Record. The 70s bike boom was well underway and our spider bikes had become too juvenile for our lanky bodies and restless legs. We discovered these new bikes were the keys to our freedom to explore the open road. With larger wheels, drop bars and 10 gears, our range extended to from miles to tens of miles. We began to eat up the roads around our small rural North Carolina town.
The Blue Raleigh Record circa 1984.
My brother soon turned 16 and gave up on his Raleigh for his driver's licence. And luckily enough, I had grown tall enough to ride his abandoned steed. I am sure we did some horse trading, as we did lots of that, so I ended up the owner of the blue Raleigh. At the age of 15, I used it as transportation to my new job as a bag boy at our local grocery store. Ironically enough, as soon as I was able to save enough money I bought my first guitar, yes it was a six string from a second hand store, but I didnt know how to play it and it was the summer of ‘81. My love for the Raleigh bike was deep, as it was made in Nottingham, England and so was I. However this is when I was starting to identify as a Rock and Roller.
Riding to the Graffitti studio, 1985.
I continued to ride the blue Raleigh Record to my work as a rock and roller after I graduated from high school. I even took the rear cassette apart because the chain was jumping. I thought it was the cassette bearings, even brought them back to Nottingham, England to a bike shop and purchased 36 more tiny steel ball bearings. I can still remember the shame the bike shop mechanic cast on me for thinking the problem was the cassette bearings. I had no clue that all those miles over the last 12 years had shark-finned the cassette teeth and stretched the chain.
Somewhere in Boone, NC in 1987 on the black Raleigh Competition.
While in England that summer, I remember seeing squadrons of cyclists rambling down the narrow lanes. I came back to the USA and bought a “used” Raleigh Competition. It was black and it was made with Reynolds 531 tubes; it even had a lightweight Huret derailleur and a Brooks saddle. I was now traveling the east coast college scene with the rock band that I was in and I would take my bike with me. Riding with frat boys at each venue, I found that I loved the speed of cycling and I began training to race. My first solo 100 plus mile ride was done on this bike. I woke up one Sunday morning and proclaimed ”I will ride to that mountain”, I rode 60 miles to the mountain and 60 miles back on a busy US Highway. For those that know the area that ride was from Newton to Boone, NC and back. My trip was on US 321 the entire way. One stop to eat at Mom & Pops Steak House and then bomb back down to Newton. That was a long day.
My first race team, 1988 (Ride A Bike).
In 1987 I was walking past our local bike shop and in the window was a red and yellow Raleigh 531c frame set that was my size. The lust was like Ralphie and the Red Ryder BB Gun in the Christmas Story, but I was 25. Needless to say, I plucked down the $500 bucks to feed my addiction. I was now identifying as a “bike racer guy”. My rock and roll gig had come to an end, and I was managing a bike shop in Stateville, NC. I raced this bike for a couple of seasons. The team I was managing and racing with was sponsored by Cannondale, so I sold my Raleigh bike to one of my ex band mates, and he moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan with the Raleigh in tow.
My memorial to the Raleigh, currently at DeFeet.
Fast forward 30 yrs to the 2018 Tour of California. I was chatting with the cycling industry folks at the bar when a friendly voice said “hey I think I know where your first bike is'' I said “What? First bike!?” “Yeah, it's a yellow and red Raleigh right? It's hanging on the wall in Michigan. The bike shop owner said it was the guy from DeFeet's first bike”. Wow! no way, who would ever know that this was my old racing bike. So I jotted down the details and called Billy's Bike shop and sure enough, good ol Billy bought the bike from my bandmate and kept it. When I asked him why he kept it he said “ I knew you would want it back one day.” That was so cool of him, I traded Billy a batch of DeFeet socks to get my “first real bike” back. It now sits in my office at DeFeet World Headquarters in Hildebran NC.. So many great memories come rushing back when I shake hands with the brake hoods. Wow.
My Badge of Honor.
That was it, my “first real bike” was a Raleigh. Albeit morphed 3 times over. My first Raleigh served me well, it was a seed. My second Raleigh was the sprout that broke the surface of performance. The 3rd Raleigh had me full fledged hook line and sinker addicted to the bicycle and became my branches to the USCF bicycle races that became my defining moment in life as who I would become. Forged just like the Reynolds tubes, and patina set in due to all the use and abuse, I became my bike. Confidence that was discovered racing elbow to elbow, knee to knee was brilliant. Fields of 100 strong, racing became my college of hard knocks and life lessons learned at breakneck speeds. Since then I have had so many bikes, made of all kinds of materials. But the ones that hooked me had so much soul, and became part of my journey were these 3 Raleighs and to that I owe them this toast..they are my roots.
Would you like to "Write a Bike" with us? We would love to share your stories. Tell us about your first real bike, or your current bike, or your most special bike. Send us photos. We will post a new one at least once a month.