My Bicycling Origin Story

Athena hurling the Javelin

I’m about to hit my 5,000th bike mile for 2020, and I’m buying yet another new-to-me used obscure recumbent, a rare Easy Racers Ti Javelin. A friend in an online chatroom today asked,

Have you always been this into cycling? Or is it something you developed as an adult?

Always somewhat, but this year I’m doing it way more. I have the pandemic to thank. No travel, and I’m not spending money on anything else really, so why not. Most of my socializing is happening on rides with friends; it’s outdoors, safely distanced, yet intimate because you get to know people through conversation and a little shared adventure.

Tell us your cycling origin story!!! How did you get to be so into it!

Like most kids in the 70’s, I was raised to ride bikes; that’s how kids got around back then, before parents drove them everywhere. Started with the typical banana seat kiddie bike, moved up to a Raleigh 3-speed. Lived adjacent to a college campus where biking was the way people got around. Even my Dad biked to work. Now everybody drives on campus, it’s horrible.

When I turned 18 or so I got my first grown-up bike with drop handlebars, what we then called a “ten speed”. It was a Ross. I moved with it to Santa Cruz, CA, in 1987, where I biked to get around. I always disliked cars and fought with my Dad over driving. He said I would “have to”; I said I wouldn’t until solar cars were available. I got my driver’s license and everything, but refused to own a car, and I really hated driving in California, because of the hills and the fact that my friends drove stick shifts I couldn’t manage. So I just stopped driving altogether.

I rode that Ross all around Santa Cruz, building up my leg muscles to get up the hills. In 1991, I moved to San Francisco and got a Univega hybrid. I noticed how rapidly consumer bikes were improving, going down in cost and up in quality. I biked a lot in San Francisco. Then my bike got stolen off Valencia Street in broad daylight. Thieves froze and smashed the urban U-lock. Actually that might have been the Ross that got stolen, maybe I replaced it with the Univega. I painted that (replacement?) Univega with dots of nail polish all over, to make it look distinctive and therefore less appealing to thieves. It never got stolen, but I didn’t ride it long, because in 1999 I discovered Brompton folding bikes while living in Europe.

I got my first Brompton on a trip to the Netherlands in 1999, and took it on trains all over the place the Summer I was based in Veyrier, Switzerland (near Geneva). The Brompton came with me back to San Francisco and became my primary bike. I never had to lock it outside; I folded it up and took it indoors with me, even to go shopping.

When I moved to NYC in 2002, the Brompton came with me, and it was perfect for that city. Bromptons were still obscure in the US back then, but now they’re very popular. NYC has at least 2 Brompton dealers now. I upgraded to a newer Brompton in 2011, and when I moved back to Urbana, IL in 2012, continued to ride it.

In 2013 or 2014 a friend of my Momz’s offered her fancy carbon road bike in trade for an art quilt. It was my first ever high end road bike, so light I could lift it with one hand. I started doing longer rides, which for me then meant up to 30 miles. I bruised my nether regions on that thing, actual bruises along my vulva. I also contended with back and hand pain. Looking at my hands vibrating on the handlebars, I despaired I would have to give up cycling to protect my “money makers.”

Then I discovered recumbents.

A friend had a Rans Rocket he let me try. It took me about half an hour of scooting around with my feet before I could even pedal it. Like learning to ride a bike all over again. But I knew if I could master a ‘bent, I could ride without endangering my precious aging hands.

I rode that Rans Rocket on a local “Moonlight Bike Drive,” a big group ride that went every month from Urbana to rural Sidney, IL, for ice cream and a return ride after dark, about 25 miles round trip from my home. At the ice cream break another rider talked to me about recumbents, and asked if I’d ever ridden a Tour Easy. I hadn’t; I figured my sense of balance was good enough I should be on racier models. He gave me his contact info anyway. He had a Tour Easy I could borrow, he said. On the way back, with a failing headlight, I fell while starting from a stop, and skinned my elbow.

Turns out the Rans Rocket is a notoriously “squirrelly” bike, and the Tour Easy is at least as fast. I emailed Dennis and borrowed his Tour Easy and half a year later he sold it to me when he moved away from town. By then I’d bought some other recumbents via the internet, which is really the only way I could try them as there are no dealers here. I had a Performer Toscana and a HPVelotechnik Grasshopper. But that Tour Easy was a lot better for me. I eventually sold my other ‘bents and became the Easy Racers (maker of the Tour Easy) connoisseur I am today. I took longer and longer rides, both because I was so comfortable and feeling no pain, and because spending all that money and time on bikes incentivized me.

Somewhere around then I got my velomobile, Frosty, which was also a game-changer, because now I could ride in colder weather.

So that’s how I became the total obsessive you see before you today. The End.

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Author: Nina Paley

Animator. Director. Artist. Scapegoat.

4 thoughts on “My Bicycling Origin Story”

  1. Uhhh this is very coincidental Nina I had both a Ross and a Univega Alpina Uno around the same time you did…I lived with my Dad I Freiburg Switzerland 🇨🇭 for three months borrowed his friends mountain bike took it on train to Montreaux and drank Rose on the lake remember it like it was yesterday.
    I am bike obsessed currently have 3 and they exceed the worth of my car..and my car ain’t too shabby 😂🤦‍♂️

  2. Dunno about the Rocket being particular more squirrelly than any other small-front-wheel short wheelbase machine, but a LWB Tour Easy is definitely a smoother ride… I started on an EZ-1, graduated to a StratusXP, then was involved in the development of the Xstream and rode one for several years, along with a more recent Rocket. Now I’m 99% triker… Happy to be following your recumbent adventures!

  3. my cousin lived for some time in Moscow, Idaho and had a TeraTerm recumbent trike which he brought back with him to Melbourne … once I’d had a go on that I pretty much decided I wanted something similar as my primary human-powered vehicle and ended up with a pair of Greenspeed trikes – a GT2 and a GT3 …

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