Life on the frozen tundra of South Dakota Life on the frozen tundra of South Dakota

Unknown Year Schwinn Varsity

Unknown Year Schwinn Varsity

My beloved Cycle Pro Macho was stolen in October of my 7th grade year. I didn't rush right out and immediately seek a replacement for several reasons. First, due to the emotional toll the loss had placed upon me, a period of mourning was appropriate before I ran off and sought a replacement. Second, the fact that my bike was stolen in October meant (here in South Dakota) that I was towards the end of the riding season anyway, so a new bike wouldn't have been useful for too long before it needed to be packed away for the winter. This was decades before I became a year-round bicycle commuter, back when cold and snow would stop me. Third, and most importantly, I was flat broke.

Previously, I had chipped in to pay for half of my second bike and paid for my entire third bike on my own. My parents weren't swimming in cash either, and with the precedence I had set with those bikes it would have been unreasonable of me to expect any financial assistance for future bike purchases.

This was 1981, and the recession of the early 1980s was in full swing. Money was always tight for my family, and that year seemed a bit tighter than normal. I particularly remember the Christmas of '81 as being quite lame, as judged by the quality of gifts I received. Now, before everyone jumps down my throat about what an ungrateful "son of a female dog" I happen to be, please let me remind you that I am telling this story from the perspective of a 7th grade boy. If you were to graph ingratitude, a 7th grade boy's coordinate would be right at the top of the bell curve. So I can freely say this knowing I've outgrown most of the character defects afflicted upon my gender at that age. Or at least I am now oblivious to these character defects. In any event, they don't appear to bother me.

Needless to say, Santa didn't deliver a new PK Ripper on Christmas morning, so it was up to me to save the money for a replacement bike.

When the snow thawed in the spring of 1982, I pulled out my dad's bike that he rode in high school. It was a three-speed Columbia with fenders, a rear rack and (gasp) a faux gas tank. It was tragically uncool at the time, but it beat walking the mile each way to school. These days I can appreciate a good vintage bike. See my above disclaimer about the ability of an adolescent boy to recognize his blessings.

I rode this bike until I managed to save some money to buy one of my own. I don't remember precisely how long I rode the three-speed, the exact point in time when I purchased a different ride, or even what I did to save up the money. In my 7th grade yearbook, I have the signature of a friend who wrote "hope you get a new BMX bike," so I know I did not have a replacement bicycle prior to the summer of 1982.

That summer I spent more than a month away from home. Our family took a two-week trip to visit friends in St. Louis and attend the World's Fair in Knoxville, TN. On the way home, we stopped in Iowa to visit my grandparents. I was left there for a couple of weeks while my brother and parents went on home. After two weeks of my grandmother spoiling me and my grandfather extracting slave labor, I went home, and my brother went to my grandparents' house. My mom and dad figured out that their summers would go a lot smoother if they kept my brother and me in separate states for as long as possible.

I also had a week of summer camp, so all told I was gone for five weeks out of the twelve that summer. Obviously, that reduced the need for bicycle transportation.

I do question how I was able to ever save any money for a new bike. This was during the height of the video game craze, when Pac Man and Donkey Kong ruled the arcades. Every week I would get my allowance ($1.25 if I remember correctly) and immediately run down to the Circus Arcade and blow it all in about 15 minutes. The Circus Arcade was previously named Granny's, which was where my last bike was stolen. It had been bought out during the year and the new owners changed the name and remodeled.

An old advertisement for Granny's Arcade.

I couldn't save any money, as anything I did to earn a buck or two immediately went to feed the arcade machines. I honestly feel I was addicted for a time. It even got to the point where I figured out that if I pocketed the quarter my dad gave me every weekday morning to buy milk at lunch, I could swing by a drug store on my way home from school and play a game of Galaxian. Never mind the fact that I was completely parched, video games took priority.

Somehow, I managed to scrounge together $40. I honestly don't remember the method by which I acquired the cash other than I am pretty sure I didn't steal it. During the winters I shoveled walks, and during the summers I mowed lawns. Add in the occasional neighborhood odd-job my dad would locate for me, and I was able to earn a little bit of money. The fact that I earned it doesn't surprise me; what surprises me is that I was able to not foolishly spend enough of it to have $40 to put towards a bike. Seriously, during this time it seems like every penny I had would go to assist Frogger's effort to cross the street.

In any event, I had a little bit of money to buy a little bit of a bike. $40 wasn't enough to purchase a new bike, even a department store Huffy. And I at least knew enough not to want a Huffy anyway. Although I must admit that my friend Keith got a Huffy Santa Fe model during this time, and it sure looked nice. Most of that was probably due to the tan color with brown and orange accents which were the trendy colors during this point in time.

As mentioned above, I don't recall exactly when I bought my next bike. My gut tells me it was in the spring of 1983, but for some reason I have a hard time believing I went over a year and a half without owning a bike. So, it may have been in the fall of 1982. I'm unable to pin down the time any more precise than to say, "at some point in time during my 8th grade year."

I do remember the day, though. It was overcast and slightly cool outside. My father and I went down to the Bike Masters store on the corner of 11th and Grange and looked through their showroom. If the $40 wouldn't buy me a Huffy, it certainly wouldn't buy me any of the bikes sitting on the showroom floor. My father asked if they had any used bikes for sale. They took me into the back room and showed me what they had.

I had already decided that I was too old for another BMX bike, and wanted to move up to a "10-speed." Back then that’s what we called a road bike with drop handlebars. Outside of that requirement, I didn't know much about what I wanted.

From their used bikes, they pulled out a few that were my size and close to my budget, all of which happened to be Schwinns. The first one was an older Varsity in "Campus Green." I didn't care for the dark green color, and I'm guessing it suffered from other issues as well because my dad didn't even bother suggesting I ride it.

Schwinn Varsity Catalog Page

The second one was a light blue Le Tour. I took it for a spin around the neighborhood and liked it a lot. It was just a tad too tall for me, but that probably wasn't a problem for a 13-year-old boy as I would no doubt soon be growing into it very quickly. It rode very nice. Unfortunately, it was $65 which made it beyond what my budget would allow.

The last bike they had was a 70's Varsity. It was originally red, or maybe orange, but the paint had oxidized to a dusty rose color which I thought was ugly. Everyone else must also have felt this way because the price had been reduced to $40. For as bad as it looked, all the mechanicals had been gone through and it was in very good shape from a riding perspective. I took it for a spin, and while it wasn't as nice as the Le Tour, it was passably decent. Seeing as I had no other bike option available to me, I handed over my $40 and rode home on the Varsity.

I really don't have too many memories of this bike, which I suppose is exactly what the Varsity was intended to be: affordable, reliable transportation without being memorable or flashy. I do remember it was a bit heavy, although not near as heavy as my dad's old three-speed I had been riding. I frequently was on the receiving end of derogatory comments regarding its color.

As I reminisce about this bike, I can't remember any overly notable trips or rides on which I rode it. I'm sure there were many instances when it took me to school, the arcade and the swimming pools. I can only imagine I used it to ride the bike trail system at least once, if not multiple times. I do remember riding it over to my friend Keith's house after the first snow of the year. I had never ridden in snow before. I also had never hit the ground so hard in all my life.

Apparently, this was the most vanilla bicycle I have ever owned. It rode completely unremarkably. It had neither positive nor negative characteristics, the result of which means I have few memories associated with it. My purchase of it wasn't surrounded by the normal excitement one has when getting a new bike. It was simply the best alternative I had at the time, which doesn't incite any feelings of anticipation upon obtainment.

A Varsity that looks very similar to the one I owned.

On the other hand, its demise was most certainly memorable. As I have mentioned before in my other writings (most notably in the story of the scaffolding board) our garage was always packed to the brim with my mother's stuff. Forget trying to fit a car in the garage, it was often a trick to fit our bikes and the lawnmower in alongside her treasures which were stacked wall to wall, front to back and floor to rafters.

In the fall of 1983 my mother found herself with more valuable items than the maximum capacity of our garage without the use of an industrial-sized Cuisinart. As winter was fast approaching, she had a decision to make. One of the obvious options would be to go through the stacks of clutter and decide what items could be discarded. This was the option for which my dad was an advocate.

My mother's approach, however, was to go through the contents of the garage and determine which items would be able to survive the winter exposed to the elements while sitting on the patio, and which required shelter inside the garage. Among many other things chosen to live on the patio was my bike. At least she had the decency to place a tarp over everything that was supposed to survive the oncoming snow.

Fast forward to the spring of 1984, when Van Halen was making us jump, and everybody was getting Footloose. The snow had finally melted, and the spring thaw brought with it the excitement of a new season. I went to pull my bike out from the tarp and go for a crisp Saturday morning ride.

However, when I pulled back the tarp, the Varsity wasn't there. Perplexed, I completely removed the tarp thinking that the items on the patio had just been rearranged. No bike. In disbelief, I thought perhaps it got moved back inside the garage, but all it took was opening the door a little bit to know that getting that bike inside the garage would have taken an act of physics beyond what the quantum level would allow.

My bike had been stolen. The second bike in a row I had lost to thieves.

Unlike my first bike, however, I really didn't feel the sense of loss and violation of the theft. My thoughts were more along the line of, "why did they take that thing?" and "I guess I'm out $40."

I can only imagine the thief took it for one of three reasons, the first being that they were in such dire need of transportation that their only option was to steal a bike rather than purchase one. If that was the case, then they were welcome to it. They obviously needed it worse than I.

The second reason was that somebody was really drunk one night, saw the bike and went for a joyride before they ditched it somewhere. Again, if that were the case, then I hope they broke their leg riding on the ice.

The third and arguably most plausible reason (although I will admit that this is pure speculation) was that somebody took it knowing it was my bike, as a means to "get back at" or torment me. Having the typical impaired social skills of a fourteen-year-old boy, I had managed to estrange myself from a bunch of people during that ninth-grade school year. I could honestly believe that my bike disappeared in some sort of passive-aggressive action against me. If that were the case, then I guess that even though the theft was wrong, I need to blame myself for being a jerk.

Regardless of the reason, the bike was gone. I don't think we bothered calling the cops, as we didn't even know exactly when it disappeared. Sometime between November and April is as close as we could narrow down when the incident occurred. Quite frankly, from my last stolen bike experience I didn't expect the police to bend over backwards to solve the crime, and even if they did I wasn't sure I wanted that Varsity back.

So once again, I found myself without a bike. My mother felt bad about the theft, blaming herself and her hoarding habits. My father, who didn't like my mother's hoarding habits anyway, used this as ammunition in his war to regain possession of the garage. My brother probably was happy my bike got stolen because we were brothers and that's how brothers felt about each other.

The outcome of the theft turned out to be good (from my perspective, anyway.) My mother, due to her guilt, offered to front half of the purchase price of a new bike. That spring I had lined up a series of lawn mowing jobs for the summer, which collectively paid me about $20 per week, minus expenses. By the end of May I had my half of the money saved for my next bike.

But that fifth bike is a story for another day.

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This page last updated on 07/11/2018