I am absolutely fanatical about bicycles. I've always been a fan. Ever since my dad bought me a Kent at Jamesway. You can believe me when I say I hopped it over the curb.
In the early 2000's - I'll say 2003 - I had a real job. I was an operator at a conference calling company. It was all far too serious for someone who only recently turned twenty. My coworkers were middle aged, and they were working to pay mortgages and feed their children. I did not want this for myself. I saved up $10,000 and quit. My plan? To do nothing for a year. During that year, I imagined that another idea or opportunity would float to the top. If not? At least I wouldn't be fucking around with phones for a living.
My year of freedom began. I'd always had a passing interest in learning how to fix bicycles, and now I had the time and opportunity to pursue it. I didn't know a thing. I bought some books, and I started keeping free bicycles in the garage of the shared house I was renting. After some dumb beginner's folly, my skills improved. I relied heavily on sheldonbrown.com for answers and inspiration.
The first bicycle that I heavily customized was a Shogun. It was found for free. It was also the first true "road bike" that I had owned. At this stage of mechanic-ing, I was more interested in learning new skills than performing sensible tuneups. I wanted to make bicycles that didn't commercially exist. I had learned about 3-Speed hubs, and I was intrigued.
The Shogun had a damaged crank. The pedal threads were hopeless. Other than that, it just needed a tuneup. The first thing I did was cut out the rear hub, order spokes, and lace a 3-Speed hub into the rim. I cold set the frame to the correct spacing, and installed some Shimano 600 cranks with the 39 tooth chainring on the outside of the spider. This was my first time installing cranks or building a wheel. All of this worked much easier than it should have. I took the 3-Speed Shogun on my normal loop and shaved minutes off my best time. I was exuberant. Now, I believe the credit goes to the frame. It was a nice double butted chromoly frame that fit me well. My first of the type.
In 2008, I rode a different bicycle across the United States.
I never developed any interest in racing. I was never competitive with sports. After building the 3-Speed Shogun, I worked several jobs as a bicycle mechanic, and built many more 3-Speeds. I developed my skills as a mechanic, and sought to learn everything I could about bicycles. I thrived on arcane knowledge, and prided myself on having a vast bag of tricks. I memorized loads of specs for threadings, diameters, and all manner of compatibility issues. I was obsessed and entrenched.
For a period of time, I was living in Philadelphia and making ends meet by purchasing bicycles in the suburbs and selling them on Craigslist. I'd give the bicycles more than a fair cleaning and tuneup, and then sell them as ready to ride with a guarantee. During this time, I found the bicycle which I still consider my main machine: a 1997 Diamondback Outlook.
The Diamondback Outlook is not a bicycle for enthusiasts. It is an entry level bicycle with components and materials which most would mercifully call "cheesy." I saw potential for a strong and reliable city bike. I changed the mountain bike tires for cheap rubber with an inverted tread. I installed a rack and attached a milk crate with hose clamps. I replaced the handlebars with Northroad handlebars from a Raleigh 3-Speed. I threw away the shifter, and installed a friction thumb shifter in its place.
My Diamondback Outlook: Simple. Invincible. An absolute joy to ride.
When you ride a cheap and simple bicycle, you don't think about the "what-ifs" which can plague you on an expensive machine. You don't seek to shave grams or tune a mess of complicated gadgetry into silence. You just ride. You rarely fix, because there is almost nothing to damage. A couple times a year, you can wipe it down and treat it to some oil.
My Diamondback carried me from Philadelphia to Florence, Oregon over the course of three months and one day. We got incredibly dirty, and meandered along a route more than 1,000 miles longer than a crow would fly. We climbed mountain passes with snow at the top, and descended at the same speed as a pickup truck with a confused looking driver. I met great friends. I experienced loneliness. I wanted to quit several times. It always got better. I am stronger in all ways for having gone the distance, and I am relieved that the the experience is tucked safely under my belt.