learned to ride a bicycle late in my childhood,
but once I did, it became a passion. From my early coaster brake bikes, to my
3 speed Rudge (a division of Raleigh Bicycles), to my first 10 speed. I
still recall the thrill of ordering it - a Sierra Brown Schwinn Continental.
It was my equivalent experience to my father ordering a new car - going to the
showroom, selecting the color and accessories, etc. As luck would
have it, due to the tremendous popularity of that model and a parts shortage
at the time, it took a little longer than expected for the bike to arrive at
the shop from the factory. I recall receiving a handwritten postcard
from the Port Washington Bicycle Shop, apologizing for the delay, even though
I knew it was not their fault. I learned something about the art of
genuine "customer service" with that gesture.
can still recall the excitement of picking up the bike when the call came.
Walking into the back of the shop felt like walking into a car dealer.
The aroma of the new bicycles had that new car smell.
that bike didn't last long. It was taken from my garage one August night in
1973, while my family was with guests in the backyard. I was crushed,
and my father knew it. Not many kids waxed their bicycles. The
next day, he took me to the bike shop, unhesitatingly plopped down a check,
and I had a new bike. Some of my friends were astonished that I
got a replacement so quickly, wondering why not wait to see if it might be
found - but my father and the bike shop owner, Vincent Bandoian, knew
instinctively that the chances of recovery were slim. Vincent was very
empathetic, and just as angry as my Dad that some creep took my bike. He
assembled the new one for me in record time.
you happen to see this bike, serial # JH572011 pictured below, let me know!
My new Schwinn Continental, in Sunset Orange, cheered me right up.
I found a paperback book entitled "The Clear Creek Bike Book" that had guidance and illustrations of mechanics and repairs, using pictures of a similar model to my bicycle. I was hooked. I had a natural curiosity in mechanical workings, and after exploring first by taking off the crank, I began experimenting - taking the bike completely apart, cleaning and re-greasing the cage bearings on the crank and the loose bearings on the wheels, pedals and derailleur sprockets. At the slightest sign of wear, I'd replace the parts, and I'd adjust the cones and the bearings until they had the perfect amount of freedom, with no play from side to side. Twice a year I'd take everything off the frame, and hang the frame in the garage like it was a car on a lift to touch up the paint. All parts were cleaned and polished, and put back together like new. A neighbor got me into washing cars, so I had to make do with my bike at that age. I would wash and wax the bike weekly. I was proud of that bike - it was the tightest, smoothest, cleanest and fastest 10-speed in the neighborhood.
At one point, one of the decals on the frame became a little chipped. I decided to write to the Schwinn company in Chicago to request replacements, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope and an offer to send payment. I received a very nice letter in a folder, along with several sets of decals. Being a decal novice, I went through all of them without successfully applying them to the frame as good as the factory did. I wrote back, and the same Consumer Relations rep Jeff Smith sent another packet, and kind letter. Although my skills in applying the decals improved greatly, and being a perfectionist, I was still unhappy that there were a couple of air bubbles showing. I wrote once again to Jeff. I received another letter - but this time from Ignaz Schwinn III. I was thrilled at age 13 to receive a personal letter from someone named "Schwinn". I had no idea at the time that he was the grandson of the founder, Ignaz Schwinn. That kind of personal attention is rare these days, and I still believe that no email can replace the impact of receiving a traditional paper letter - that you can hold and look at for years to come:
In 1976, Vincent got a hold of me and offered me a job in the bike shop, and I worked there for a few summers. It was my first real job, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work in the shop. I earned the nickname "eyes" for my skill in truing a wheel by adjusting the spokes. Working there felt just as thrilling as working in an auto shop, with all of the parts and tools to fix anything. I learned quite a bit from Vincent on how to run a business and work with customers.
It is fitting that he took pleasure in providing the latest overhaul of the bike in 2011, shortly before he semi-retired, and the shop moved to its new location in Port Washington under new ownership.
Click thumbnail images to enlarge...
In 1976, my friends and I got the idea to take a long distance bike trip, after taking a local trek to Sagamore Hill, the "Summer White House" of Teddy Roosevelt. We knew we wanted to head somewhere far, so we decided to ride to Massachusetts. All we carried were maps, camping supplies, some cash, and first aid and tube repair kits. Cell phones and GPS didn't exist yet. I later realized the enormous trust and confidence our parents must have had with this group of 16 year olds. When we arrived home, they could not have been prouder of us and what we had accomplished. It was quite a feeling to have friends and neighbors cheer us as we returned. I think I kept the gear on the bike for days to live the moment a bit longer.
Click thumbnail images to enlarge...
July, 1976 - 6 AM - Alex Rekow, Jon DeMeo, Glenn McDonald, Carl LaCapria and Jim Cunningham
start out from Port Washington Blvd and Neulist Avenue.
We rode east on Northern Blvd (25A) to Port Jefferson. We enjoyed a downhill run hill that was 3/4 mile long.
A cop stopped to escort us.
We made it to the Port Jeff Ferry just in time, and Carl's father Rocco and step-father Len saw us off as we sailed to Bridgeport. Jon got seasick.
The first night we camped on the side of the road, about halfway up Connecticut.
A severe storm hit that night, and a few of us started to wonder what we were thinking....
We rode as many quiet roads as we could, but did have to share the road with cars and trucks.
That was interesting in the windy rain.
By the second day, we crossed into Sheffield Massachusetts, and treated ourselves to
a no-frills hotel and a steak dinner.
On the third day, we headed back, cycling though upstate New York,
staying overnight in Brewster NY (not this hotel).
On the fourth day, we made our way back to Bridgeport to catch the ferry back to Long Island.
Vincent Bandoian & Glenn McDonald in the old shop
Vincent Bandoian, John Pappas, Mike Black