Sunday, August 9, 2009


“Discovery” was a cheap yellow Huffy I got for my birthday when I was 12 or 13 years old. It was the classic 1970s 10-speed. I named it after the spaceship in "2001: A Space Odyssey." A decal from a Space Shuttle model kit covered up the weenie "Scout" on the top tube and made it official.

That bicycle freed me.

I was a geek loser less-than-nobody in high school. But with the ten-speed, I could escape the neighborhood and explore. I rode north as far as O’Hare Airport, and watched 747s swoop down just yards over my head. I rode west to the Churchill Woods Forest Preserve and threw stones in the river.

Weekends were filled with exploration. My friend Dean and I rode the Illinois Prairie Path from Villa Park all the way to Elgin, a round-trip distance of more than 30 miles over (at the time) barely improved path. We swam in the Keeneyville Quarry. We held our noses and negotiated the humpy compressed dirt track along Salt Creek.

Riding the same crushed limestone of the Prairie Path 35 years later, I pondered the question of how many bikes I’ve owned since the original Discovery. The bikes I remember: the Nishiki my grandmother bought me when I was a sophomore in college- a Rolex precision watch of bicycles – it got stolen three weeks later. A Fuji mountain bike I rode for years as a young adult, the nubby tires steadily wearing down on the streets.

I figure my current bike must be about the seventh I’ve owned since the original, so it’s the Discovery 7. A 24-speed Trek 7100, it's the first bike I’ve ever purchased because that’s the bike I bloody well wanted, instead of the bike I could afford.

I loaned it to my son when he left for college, and bought myself a brand-spankin’ new Gary Fisher. A semester later, we traded. Well, Dad demanded his Trek back, and the kid reluctantly gave it up. The kid considers his bicycle transportation; Discovery 7 and I are soul mates.

I own a fishing boat, a Toyota Highlander, and a Harley Superglide. But the mode of transportation that really frees my soul is a bicycle. The bike is the self-propelled spirit of discovery.

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