Fatigue Limit – 4

Solo ride on the new pneumatics at Niagara Falls, N.Y. in 1890.

“What about Dunlop’s pneumatic tire? Have you seen it? Is it as good as they say?”

Carl reattached his wheel, picked up his knapsack and headed for the door. “Not Dunlop! He re-invented the pneumatic tire conceived by Robert Thomson. Mr. Thomson should sue, but I’m quite sure he thinks like me. He wants to see technology advance. Come on. We’re going to be late. We don’t want to miss a ride with Velo Master Mandrel. I’ll tell you about Dunlop’s tire on the way. All I’ll say right now is they’re better than the Victor’s cushion tires.”

We mounted our safety bikes with hard-rubber wheels and rode north on the El Camino to the bike shop and hardware store on University Avenue. Windy Hill’s patch of pastoral greenery marked the distant hills and reminded us adventure awaited. We overtook a water truck spraying the road. The wagon shot a thin stream my way. It mixed water and dirt that splashed, coating my shirt in a veil of mud. I cursed to the heavens. The driver saw us coming, knew he might spray us, but kept at it. It was the kind of insult we cyclists got used to. We were punching bags for the horse riders and other transportation.

“At least it didn’t include a horse’s Eau de Cologne,” Carl replied after a laugh.

“He saw us coming,” I fumed.

“Get over it kid. Find a way to get back at him.”

Carl turned down Lytton, one of the new streets in Palo Alto where a land rush ensued when Timothy Hopkins put lots up for sale months earlier. I had written several articles about the new town and its role in supporting Stanford University.

“I think I know where we’re headed Carl.”

“My house is almost finished.” Carl dismounted near the intersection of Middlefield Road. “They’ve got the roof done. Nice work. In a few more weeks I’ll have something more to my liking.”

We rolled up to Orr & Peterson’s where cyclists congregated. I recognized a few of the riders, but Carl knew everyone. He mingled and exchanged words with the wheelmen, always appraising riders’ bikes. “Those wheels aren’t going to last,” he griped. “You’ve got to build them with three-cross lacing. Didn’t you read my article? That frame looks like a giant grasshopper! Who built that? Oh! An Ordain-ary. Blessed by the Pope!”

Most riders who knew Carl had grown accustomed to his constant browbeating. They shrugged and paid him no attention, but a few listened intently, mostly the young, impressionable riders like myself. Another rider showed up on his penny-farthing. I stifled a laugh. He would not be joining us on the long climb that was sure to come.

Fatigue Limit home

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