Lost Youth (Track Bike) I

I saw this great illustration of a track bike and had to look:

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I looked at the slide shows that they had and I was completely critical of them. “These young white kids are all about the fashion,” I thought. Then I remembered when the type of bike I rode helped to define me. Of course I was following in the broad slipstream of my younger brother, but I remember thinking that what I did was cooler because of the bike I rode. I thought I was tougher because I had no brakes. No Stopping, full speed ahead: the constant forward of youth; no doubts aloud. Sigh.

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The photo above is Scott and I in our first office at 303 Park Ave South. Our office, ironically, was in the entrance to the subway station @ 23rd and Park (uptown 6). I wish I could say those were the days, but “these are the good old days,” as the song says. Notice my surplus wool pants with red braces (suspenders). This was before I started to wear cycling gear when I worked. I think we figured out it was 1985. HIM Trevor T sent the [photo for Scott’s birthday a few weeks ago.

I came across some more interesting things about Track Bikes. First, I knew that there was a reason that I loved Edward Hopper:

hopper-track-bike-racer.jpg

Here we have a painting of a six day racer. Jheesh. You know his quads were jumping as he caught naps during the race. And this is pained by one of my favorite artists. I can’t get over it. It turns out he was an avid six-day-race fan.

The first Six-day race was held in England in 1878, but the event did not become popular until 1891 when races began to be held in Madison Square Garden. Originally, the Six-day races were contests of raw endurance, with a single rider competing as many laps as possible over a six day period. The riders would rest when needed, but spent the remainder of the time racing to complete laps.

The story of Hopper and Cycling is actually more complicated. There is a good blog on it that you should check out: http://www.unc.edu/~hymas/2005_10_01_.html.

Here are some highlights:

In later letters, Hopper described the painting’s subject matter:

“I was unable to remember the name of the rider, only that he was young and dark and quite French in appearance. I did not attempt an accurate portrait, but it resembles him in a general way. He was I think a member of one of the last French teams to win a race at Madison Square Garden. He is supposed to be resting during the sprints while his team mate is on the track or at the time when `The Garden’ is full in the afternoon or evening, when both members of a team are on full alert to see that no laps are stolen from them.”


Based on Hopper’s recollections and the painting itself, the rider depicted is very likely Frenchman Alfred Letourner, one of the era’s great six day champions. He won at Madison Square Garden on six occasions, and as Hopper opined, Letourner was indeed the last Frenchman to win at the Garden. The vivid red jersey also points to Letourner, whose customary jersey choice generated his nickname: “Le Diable Rouge”.

I remember the very first day I rode a fix, and how my legs twitched somatically recalling the eight or so hours I spent pedaling and breaking down. That was, to this day, one of the best night sleeps I’ve ever had. I had just returned from my permanent vacation (aka “geographic”) on Maui and I was out of shape for the life of a messenger. Of course I was young, at 24 you can do anything. I lied there falling into sleep calculating how many runs I had done, how much money it would mean, come pay day, and enjoying the twitching feeling that possessed my quadrilaterals.

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I had a chrome metro track bike with straight narrow handlebars, a fairly non-traditional configuration. It made me feel like I was more unique than the the guys who raced in Nelson Vales’ (Black New Yorker Olympic hopeful in the matched sprints, 1984). That was about the time I traded my helmet for a pork-pie hat in red, yellow, green and gold (the colors of liberation). In that change of headgear was a quiet cry to escape the insanity of my image driven life: the ennui of an extended adolescence, a life with out purpose beyond rutting.

I wrote some stories about that time that I might include here at some point, one of which was a mystery with a messenger as detective. Another was a bit more -well- personal, that I might have to post anonymously: I have much more to lose today, now that I’m not a messenger.

I have so much stuff now that I am old and nostalgic, what I wouldn’t give to have some of the pictures I took when I was young. I actually don’t think that Manhattan is a better place for photos, but the screensaver of my youth is Manhattan, though I see the borough-beauty out here in the land of 718 now.

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5 responses to “Lost Youth (Track Bike) I

  1. Hi,
    That was a great read. Fun :-)It reminded me of the bikes I had. my first was a pink banana seat thing. the second a BMX dirt bike– there was the Samba mountain bike stolen out of my backward which reminds me of Paul –my boyfriend at the time opened his safe took me to a bike shop and bought me a trek even though he couldn’t afford it. Still probably the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me. Now I ride a Trek grip shift mountain bike and it does seem like me, it fits me. The twitching legs ! I remember biking so hard when I got off the damn thing my legs were still cycling. I better get a good ride in. I miss it

  2. Strangest thing. First off I saw a track Bike outside of LaGCC the other day and took her image, but also I was reminded twice this week of my favorite old bike (that I wrecked). That’ll be for another post.

  3. a bianchi thats my dream bike or le mond… the bianchi actually looks close to my dream considering they’re not ALL above 1,5000+. and you never told me you were a bike messenger i thought about doing that but do to some immigration things i rather not.

  4. Give me an old cool bicycle, and I’ll ride around the city for days.

  5. It is funny, my first track bike was a chrome Metro track bike with straight bars and no brakes. Sigh, I must have sold it in 84 or 85. It was a bit too big, but shiny.

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