My hefty all steel frame 1962 Schwinn bicycle I named Helga, and she is by far one of my most prized possessions.
My husband helped me find what he calls my “Madison Girl Bike” at Dream Bikes. We heard of Dream Bikes from kids that worked with Dave at Fontana Sports so we had to check it out. The place itself was small and just outside of a sketchy area of town, but the mission drew us in. In short, Dream Bikes helps kids learn how to fix up, maintain, and sell bikes to people who just can’t afford new bikes. For vintage Schwinn lovers, it’s a great place to find older Chicago-made Schwinns that need some TLC.
The bike I now lovingly refer to as Helga sat in the sun in a lineup of other grocery-getters in front of the shop. She was the only orange one and she just happened to be the perfect size for me. When I took her for a few circles in the parking lot I felt like we were already best friends, like trying out a pony at Kurtz Corral and wanting to take her home. We bonded.
Her original basket in front and book rack in back simply sealed the deal. We purchased a discounted bell and a huge bike light while a fourteen-year-old girl set the seat to the proper height for me and gave it one more look over. She stood taller than the white man helping her, and could probably beat him up if she wanted to, but her demeanor was of a baby mouse.
I saw her thought process in her head. She silently told herself step by step what to do, and then try to remember what to do next. Oh yes, “Thank you, Ma’am. Have a nice day.”
Dave and I looked up her serial number to discover she was built in 1962 in Chicago, IL. Helga is older than me by more than ten years but I think she’s in better shape than I am.
Every Saturday morning I rode Helga to the farmer’s market then to Willy Street Coop, filling Rhoda (my backpack) to max capacity with fresh food and flowers. We found matching bungy cords to strap down the case of sparkling water on the book rack, and help secure any wine bottles in the basket. Helga climbed the Mifflin Street hill slowly but steadily. Downhill she took advantage of her weight and gravity, sending me back home with wind-whipped hair.
A few times the back tube blew, so Revolution Cycles searched, found, and ground down the sneaky burr on the rim. A few times the back wheel wonked out which simulated a slow pony trot on Helga. Again, Revolution fixed that too, truing the tire back to straight perfection.
She’s an old gal, Helga, but she just keeps going. She looks at me with a coy stance and begs me for another short adventure. We rode to fine dinners and casual concerts. We rode around the capital countless times and carried home everything from a cast iron bean pot to cedar blocks of wood for a trail sign project. Sometimes we bring Rhoda, other times she wears a cool pannier bag from Leafling. Sometimes the ride is just for the two of us, Helga and me, just to smell the lake air and hike up hills.
Our favorite bike paths take us over the river on bike bridges and along lakes where charming brick houses live. We never hit anything living, but we’ve nearly missed squirrels and baby rabbits a few times.
She plows through gravel and puddles with joy, and she hates being carried over train tracks.
Soon I will be adding another bike to the family. I haven’t named her yet, but I hope Helga doesn’t get jealous. This one is lighter, faster, and built with new components on a used but not so old frame. She will have more gears, new handle tape, and fatter cooler pannier bags custom created by Leafling for me. This new baby sister to Helga must take me longer distances, for example on an hour long bike commute to work next spring.
But on weekends, Helga and I will be inseparable again, loading up Rhoda with melons and honey and potatoes from the local farmers. Strapped with groceries to the rack in back, Helga will take me on our favorite scenic routes through Madison. Together we will take our time, soak in the sun, stop to smell the lilacs, and carefully scoop around the old ladies walking their little dogs. No one could ever replace Helga. She’s my most prized possession.