Frankie was a trailblazer. It was 1985 and my high school-aged brother comes home with what? A new bike. Our friends are buying stereos for their rusted out shit-can Chevys and Oldsmobiles but Frankie bought a bike. I guess we both had been tilting an ear and a flipping’ an eyeball to the TV coverage of the American phenom and the goings on overseas in the world of international bicycle racing. However even with Lemond making noise, It was still a very quiet sport. Especially in the “get the F outta my way, cause I own the F ‘n road and no cyclists should ever be caught dead riding on the streets of the Motor F’n City!”
Even so, I watched in quiet curiosity as he went out daily for his multi hour rides. I was intrigued and frankly, the sibling rivalry engrained in me ever since I took away his lollipops when we were 2, couldn’t help but take over. I looked at his new bike, a powdery silver Gitane.- It was actually relatively light- for the day. All I remember was it had some French derailleurs on it- maybe Simplex. Every part was actually removable and replaceable. unlike the bikes I was used to that had rivet-on parts. It was a pretty tasty ride! He also wore those silly ass shorts and hats. But for some reason the part and package all looked right the minute he jumped on the bike and took off down the street. Plus, the Italian Campagnolo branding was all that. He had no Campy on the bike but we are Italian after all and to not pay tribute to one of your nations hallowed brands would be sacrilege. Every time he came home, I remember him looking cool as hell rolling into the garage with a broad smile that made me wonder what he knew that I didn’t. I wanted in!
When I pursued the cause he proudly led me down to his shop of choice. It was a Saturday afternoon- not sure why but I remember that. Now, we had shops in our area but Frank had somehow managed to track down this shop that was 3-4 towns away. How in the hell did he even find this place? Remember-this was pre net! That and the fact that Frank had the shortest arms and deepest pockets of anyone I knew.
So we walked into this crummy looking bike shop. I remember it almost being more of a warehouse than a bike shop. Rows of racks, chock full of bikes & parts. A greasy, putrid funk permeated everything. I have no idea why, but a comfortable feeling quietly consumed me. I immediately felt good there. Then the slickest looking little sales guy comes over. Slicked back longish center parted hair style and a full on porno stache. Hi I’m Paul. What can I help you with? We’ll, he remembered Frank and set me up with the exact same Gitane. This one had a metallic blue tint to it but it was a pretty bike. I jumped on and took it around the block a few times. Admittedly, I was impressed, It accelerated quicker than what I had been used to and turned on a dime. Plus, the gears actually worked. To me that was an upgrade from the crap I was used to, hell, my last bike had custom paint roller paint job. But I was a college student and every cent was accounted for. 3oo bucks was more than I was happy to part with. But as I rolled back from my test ride, I must’ve been sporting the same shit eating grin as Frankie cause he just looked me and offered up one of my favorite sales lines ever.
“Handles like a cat’s ass don’t it?”
“Now I can’t say I had ever fondled a feline’s behind, but it seemed like something that might be equally enjoyable. All I could say as an expert, used to riding a 45 lb Schwinn-shitter was, “yep, it’s really fast I guess.” Funny thing is that it not only made the sale but it was that same line that I used to sell that bike again the very next year for almost the same amount as I bought it for, As I look back on it today, it might have been nothing more than a re-branded Japanese knock off but I did’t care, cause I was officially a cyclist ready to to be buzzed, beeped and flipped off by every angry and bike despising driver in the Detroit area.
That summer and into the next year began my love of riding. I owe most of that to my brother – he triggered my passion as we shared some epic rides, developed some great stories, and spent some great days together. I realized then that a bike was not really about transportation. It was a means to escape.
But to this day it might be that smarmy looking slickster who delivered one of my favorite sales lines ever that deserves the ultimate tip of my short brimmed, sun-faded, Campy cycling cap.
Thanks, Paul, you were right – that bike was the cat’s ass.