It was 1993. May. The almost two-month long siege at Waco Texas had just ended in terrible massacre; the siege of Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serbs was into its second year.
The following month would see TVs final episode of Cheers and rave reviews for blockbuster movie Jurassic Park.
There was no fanfare for us, however, as we stuttered into town broken and beat in an old Ford Tempo hardly running. I’d lost my wife (Liam’s Mum) to cancer, my five bedroom house in BC, and the wolves had eaten my dog.
That summer Liam and I rented a bedroom in Wes and Nevada’s apartment—and got a real education. We watched the brothers respoking bike wheels on the living room floor; tuning up a Cannondale, hearing about Gary Fisher bikes and Manitou suspension forks, clip-on pedals and trails to ride around town. Bikes got fixed to U2’s The Joshua Tree—With Or Without You; I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (my signature tune still)—and Leonard Cohen’s Closing Time and Democracy. Wow! Heavy stuff those early Nineties. A time when you could do the amazing Ho-Chi-Min and Bike Toss trails and take your dog wherever you liked. Wood for campfires was free and you could find Freewheel Cycle next to the old Husky station on Patricia.
Gunner was the mechanic. Dave was there. Steve. And Dale had his hole-in-the-wall Gravity Gear with a mickey-mouse climbing wall and a mattress on the floor. Liam and I would go there every day, visiting, hearing about bikes and trails, trying on Lycra shorts and flashy jerseys, imagining. Then one afternoon Dave let me take some bikes for test runs, while Liam fell on his head making deft moves on Dale’s wall.
But not just any old bikes: Rocky Mountain bikes.
I tested the Blizzard, the Fusion, and the Hammer up Trail 2. I settled on the Blizzard with its twenty-one gears, light steel frame, SPD pedals and its amazing ability on hills if the fellow doing the pumping was up for it. Gunner trimmed down the headset and fitted Amp forks, the second lightest suspension forks next to the Manitou in the whole wide world, or so I was told. For the first time in my life I owned transportation that attracted admiring whistles and comments.
Decked out from Freewheel I was now King of the Road, flashing down Main Street in my synthetic ultrasuede chamois jet-black Pearlizumi cycle shorts, gripping handlebars with hands incased in pink (shows off suntanned arms best) Lycra cycle gloves, wearing yellow and black high-performance Shimano cycle shoes clipped into my SPD pedal system, athwart my Rocky Mountain charger. If my 100% polyester Sugoi cycle jersey had been yellow instead of plum-purple, I could have done victory laps round town with flower wreaths around my neck and applause and cheers ringing in my ears. As it was I got “Cool bike!” “Wow! Amp forks, never seen them before! Must be the only bike in town with them. How do they ride?”
“They ride my friend, let me tell you!” And to admiring gazes we would do another lap around the Arc de Triomphe. It didn’t seem to matter that a three-year-old kid, suitably attired in ladies’ gear (you couldn’t find hard-core stuff for little kids back then) from Freewheel, was plonked over the back wheel, the audience was too busy ooh-ing and aah-ing at my machine.
Well that all lasted till next year’s models came out and everyone upgraded. Then nobody gave us a second glance, unless it was “Look at that silly old fart dressed up like he’s in the Tour de France. Shouldn’t be allowed on the streets if you ask me.” Although I still got enquiries about the Amp forks. Apparently, they weren’t making them any more, they were becoming museum curiosities—like the owner.
We rode Bike Toss, The-Ho-Chi-Min, Signal Mountain, The Valley of the Five, The Palisades, Death Wall, The Overlander, I was building up my calf muscles until they were getting more admiring glances than the bike. I wore my cap backwards that year, not because of a mid-life crisis but rather to identify with “the boys.” My mother would have been appalled—“Mutton dressed as lamb,” she would have said.
I rode and rode that summer, burning off the pain I suppose, and always with my coxswain on the back of the bike: “DAD! I SAID TURN HERE!”
A two-dollar child seat from a junk shop had changed my life. I no longer had to stay within the bounds of a little boy’s walking ability. As long as I could pedal, we had the freedom of the hills to go to impossible places together. We had picnics by secret lakes and hidden creeks, we watched marmots and pikas when we pedaled to the land above the trees, we saw squirrels and bears and Indian Paintbrush. We sped like Mongolian horsemen down trails, sometimes wiping out because of going so fast.
We spent hours and hours goofing around at Freewheel Cycle. Visiting. Talking with the guys. Listening. Hearing their advice. They were all so friendly to a beaten old man and his little boy. If it was a bike seat on the back of a bike that launched our mountain careers, then it was a Rocky Mountain Blizzard from the guys at Freewheel that got us rolling.
Dave Harrap // firstname.lastname@example.org
Jasper’s David Harrap is the author of The Littlest Hiker in the Canadian Rockies. In 1993 he tested and settled on the Rocky Mountain Blizzard. In subsequent seasons in Jasper, Rocky Mountain blizzards have tested and settled on him.