Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Vintage Dream Come True: Olivia 3-Speed

Every spring for the past four years, I've longed for a bicycle. Not a mountain bike, a hybrid, or a road bike, but a bicycle. A beautiful, swan-like machine that would glide through lonely bike paths, and over rolling green hills in effortless grace. There I would be, wicker baskets and picnic blanket in tow, sitting upright, a fragrant breeze on my upturned face. In my fantasy, I parked under my favourite tree at Erindale Park, spread my blanket over thick, sweet grass, laid back and read Anne of Green Gables. I'd have an egg-salad sandwich and lemonade, too. And so, in the mists of early morning I'd pass my time in leisure, completely satiated on the loveliness of life. I'd feel my obsession to find the perfect bicycle prickle to life as soon as I was neck high in final papers, several days behind in research, deadlines pounding at my door. It was a breezy escape into some other place where everything was not only fine, it was a drink of complete serenity and contentment.

My parents bought me a mountain bike from Canadian Tire when I was 12 and I rode it to school with packs of other cycling kids, chain combination locks wound tight around our seat posts. I never graduated to a newer bicycle as an adult--I began taking the bus, and eventually just drove. As difficult as it is to believe, it never occurred to me that there could be an alternative. Cycling was a recreational activity done on the weekends by nuclear families adorned with knee pads and helmets. It was an intense sporting event, muscle-y men and women in spandex, bent in aero-dynamic perfection over svelte road bikes. It was the economic and environmentally responsible choice my friends and colleagues in Toronto made for city travel. It's not that I didn't think it was for me--I simply didn't think of it at all.

And still, there I was each spring with this urge to get a bike and ride it.

At first, I thought it was just nostalgia--that frowned upon desire to have things from a time and place you view as better than your own. Or even worse, the urgency to buy objects as antidotes to problems you harbour within. I can readily confess that there was definitely an element of both. But then my search became more detail-orientated--I wasn't just looking at bikes that looked pretty, I was looking at bikes that would fit in with my lifestyle. I wanted a very specific kind of bike--something that I could hop on and go without worrying up hiking up pant legs to avoid chain grease, or pinning up skirts so they didn't get caught in spokes and send me flying over handlebars. I wanted a bicycle I could be friendly with instead of something I would acknowledge from time to time.

Of course,
the bicycle has definite nostalgic appeal. Those old, classic bicycles have this magnetic aesthetic and emotional appeal that makes cycling seem like something more than just a ride through a park on the weekend. Riding from point A to B, is more than just a quick flit across town--it's an experience, an opportunity to absorb your surroundings and become part of the landscape. I think it makes you feel more alive.

And so I researched incessantly. I clicked on image after image of loop-frame bicycle dreams, three-speed English uprights, and old Dutch bicycles that had everything I could dream of, but were financially out of reach. Every bicycle that happened to have everything I desired was between $500 and $1500. This included a well-built steel frame, an upright riding posture, a full chain case, skirt guard, and that hard to pinpoint element--true love.

Of course, I quickly learned that even $500 is relatively cheap in the bicycle world. If I was looking to purchase for more than weekend recreation, I learned I'd be spending significant wallet weight on a machine that was meant to last. And because quality and longevity were important to me, I didn't want to cheap out and buy an upright beach cruiser that would leave me cursing its creak and wobble in a month. At the same time, I wasn't committing to being a dedicated bicycle commuter--cycling 20km to my workplace was not yet feasible for me (go ahead, judge me), though in bouts of euphoric bicycle madness I often convinced myself that yes, yes!!! I could bike that far, no problem!

What I wanted was an optimistic bicycle, a bicycle that offered opportunities and kept my options open.

"You just want to go for a leisurely ride? Sure."
"Oh, you want to start commuting? No problem."
"You'd like to sport around a little? Pretend you're racing? Okay."
"You just want to look nice? Alright. If you must."

Because as a big, fat, anything-bicycle-related noob, I needed something entry level that would still fulfill my needs and desires, but not crush any future dreams. I know there is no such thing as an "everything-bicycle." Every vehicle has its purpose, but I was determined to find a bicycle that wasn't too specific in its field of expertise. After all, I wasn't looking to train for the BMX games or any games for that matter, I only knew
that I missed that urgency to hop on a bike and go. And go I would.

I decided that this was my year. I still couldn't afford a $1000 bike, but I was going to figure out a way to get what I needed. After some strenuous research on bike forums and a plethora of information from the very lovely Velouria on Lovely Bicycle, I decided that an English 3-speed made before the 1990s would be my ideal bike. With a few adjustments, it would fulfill all my bicycle dreams. After a couple of months of searching Craigslist and Kijiji, I contacted my local bike shop, Cyclepath Mississauga - The Bike Store, and to my delight they told me they had two used "old school" bikes in stock.

A week later I walked up the sidewalk to the store and it was love at first sight. A quick ride around the parking lot, the addition of a rear rack, a seat adjustment to accommodate my unimpressive height, and a nice tune up later, she was mine.

Without further ado, I introduce to you, Olivia.

She's a 1973 CCM Elan. Canadian made, before the manufacturing of CCM's was outsourced to Taiwan. Forest green for that vintage charm; she's heavy and durable, with not a spot of rust on her!

A nice low, step-through frame to make hopping on and off easier (as well as aesthetic pleasure). The all-important chain-guard--not a full chain-case--but it will suffice just fine and nothing horrible has happened to my clothing as a result.

The addition of a front basket and flowers. (Basket stolen from my mother's beloved stair-top flower arrangement and cloth flowers clipped from her other arrangements around the house).

The addition of a rear basket (confiscated from the magazines in my room) tied down with jute. Inside, I have a picnic blanket for the essential impromptu picnic and my father's old cowboy belt to bind stuff together when I'm out and about.

So Olivia and I are just getting to know one another, but I think we're off to a very good start. There are a few other adjustments I'd like to make to make her truly mine--and so, DIY projects are already in the making! Stay tuned.

Images (respectively): Rowan of Ravara, Sullivan Entertainment, Eat Tarantula, and ubrayj02. All other images are mine.


  1. awww, shoils my love, she's beautiful! as is this BLOG! so exciting!! elaborate on the diy, please. and .. has your mother noticed the missing basket and/or flowers yet? cos i foresee that being problematic. ;) liv has turned you reckless! xx

  2. Nash! My mother reluctantly agreed to a replacement basket that she reminds me is no where near as lovely as the original. And with a quiet shrug, she has acknowledged my theft of her flowers.

    As for DIY--I'm experimenting with creating a skirt guard (will update when it's done, InshaAllah).

    And don't I just love that you've called her 'liv? I do...and she does too :D