E-mail #4, sent 6/28/98:

Nearly twenty years ago I bought a dream bicycle frame. It was in a shop in Sausalito and I thought it so pretty that I went back later and bought it. It is a Somec, made in Italy of the then finest tubing, crafted in a highly aesthetic way, and finished far finer than most bicycles. It is a metal flake Burgundy with chrome here and there, beautiful lug work (with tiny tulip blossoms cut out of them) and highlights of golden yellow pinstriping. It has stood up over the years as a classic, gorgeous Italian frame, constantly drawing appreciative comments from other cyclists. And the thing rides well. My brothers, who both have their own custom made bicycles are ready to swap with me during a portion of a ride for the Somec really performs.

When I first brought the Somec home from the shop in Sausalito I hung parts on it from my existing bicycle. These were all Italian, Campagnolo Nuevo Record components, then the finest available. Since then the engineering of bicycle parts has evolved and the drive train, brakes and shifting controls are all much improved. I’ve stuck by my old componentry for it works and it’s on a bicycle that sits in storage most of the year in California. It’s also classic stuff. There is a appreciation of old bicycles of the ’60s and ’70s built with Nuevo Record parts, much like people go for classic cars. I’ve also told my brothers, its what’s in a cyclists legs that moves a bicycle down the road, not what parts are hung on the frame. However, for the last couple years my brother Patrick has been offering to redo the Somec with contemporary components—he’d order all the stuff, build new wheels and put it all together. I’ve poo-pooed the idea until this spring when I told him to go ahead and sent him a check.

What I most wanted is modern brakes. Navigating switchbacks on descents in the Death Ride has been an enormous workout of hands and forearms. It’s a precarious feeling, especially in the rain, hurtling downhill with forearm muscles strained beyond comfort, waiting for the brake blocks to fully grip the rim.

When I arrived in Berkeley Pat told me he hadn’t been able to finish putting together the bicycle. The wheels were laced but not fully tightened and trued. Cranks and headset were on the frame but nothing else. So Friday, my first day of vacation, I went to my brother’s house to assist him in finishing the job. He worked on the wheels and set me up cleaning the deraileurs (I was getting a few parts that were once on his bike). Taking the rear deraileur apart I was delighted with how exquisitely the thing is engineered and marveled at how finished the smallest, hidden away parts are. Pat described them as “jewels you can ride.” Eventually the wheels were ready, the other parts hung, but we had to stop for lunch, then dinner and the bicycle wasn’t completed until after midnight. Having slept little the night before (in flight to CA) and suffering from jetlag I couldn’t bring myself to even ride the bike up and down the street outside my brother’s house. We placed it in the back of his truck and he drove me back to my parent’s house where I put it in the closet and collapsed into bed.