I look at the photos of Antonin Rolland’s Louison Bobet bike from the 1955 Tour de France. Its form and function are the same as my racing bike. A frame, saddle, handlebars, pedals, chain, derailleurs. You pedal, it goes. I look closer – That fork rake! A 5-speed freewheel, no drop from the saddle to stem height, and 24 pounds!
How did they do it? They raced 250-kilometer stages and changed their own punctures. They had such limited gearing while grinding up the Alps.
I squint my eyes at the photo of the yellow bike. It is again the same as my “modern” bicycle. I go to the garage and look at my bike. Electric shifting, carbon frame and components, aero tubes, aggressive racing position. I squint my eyes, it is the same as Rolland’s vintage Tour de France machine. I squint my eyes more.
In the mid-1970s, when I was 11 years old, my parents gave me a Gitane Jr. racing bike. It was a green frame with silver foil decals, 24-inch wheels, drop bars, Huret components, toe clips, and down-tube shifters. I marveled at how the chain moved from cog to cog and the center-pull brakes squeezed the aluminum rims. I rode my green French bike every day and learned how to work on it. It was magic, I was in love.
I open my eyes wide and look at my current bike. Last week I stopped three times on a ride because my power meter kept disconnecting. Why was I so frustrated? I squint my eyes. I see Antonin Rolland’s yellow Bobet, I squint harder and see an 11-year-old boy on a green Gitane. They are all the same. It is magic, I am still in love.
John Gatch is one of the Johns on the Two Johns Podcast and guides cycling trips in France for VéloSport Vacations.