A detail of the 1972 Schwinn catalog
just about everybody's got one
In the suburbs the distances between homes and destinations were no longer walkable. The automobile was the hot item for transportation, and the bicycle was perceived as nothing but a child's toy.
Here in The Scorcher's little patch of suburbia, the adults who use a bicycle to get around include a good portion of the local Mexican population, a gardener who rides a ladies 3-speed while dressed in a safari hat and rubber boots, and, of course, The Scorcher.
From what we've gathered, many of the Mexicans who ride here do so in large part for economic reasons. It is not known exactly why the gardener bicycles about, but it's perfectly reasonable, given that bicycling with a purpose is a tried and true hallmark of eccentricity here in America's Land of Lawn. When The Scorcher bikes to work, or to the 7-Eleven for the paper, he often feels as if he might as well be wearing a safari hat and knee-high rubbers.
For 18 years, The Scorcher roamed the streets of New York City, by foot, bicycle, subway, bus and, when feeling extremely flush and extremely lazy, taxi. New York City is a wonderfully logical place to get around by bicycle.
Then, in August of this year, Scorch inexplicably moved to a seaside town on the New Jersey coast. (Well, not exactly inexplicably, but that's another story.)
At first, we borrowed mum's car to get around, using it to pick up a few items at the supermarket in town or to grab something at the hardware store. But every time we went on one of these little errands, we could actually feel the conspicuousness of the consumption—it was just complete overkill to drive the car a mile into town, especially for someone who has gotten around on foot or bicycle most of his adult life.
Racing bikes are not all that well-suited to riding to and fro on small errands, so The Scorcher pulled out his trusted Urban Assault Vehicle, a modified Ibis Scorcher, a beautiful fixed gear bicycle with a black steel frame and 700 x 42 tires.
This was better than a racing bike, but still a bit too aggressive for a jaunt down Main Street.
It was then that The Scorcher came upon the Suburban.
In 1959, Schwinn began its historic run with the "single most significant American bicycle," the Varsity. By the early sixties the Varsity was offered in two versions, sport and tourist, with the main difference being the touring model came with upright handlebars and fenders. In 1970, the company dubbed the touring model the Suburban and offered it with 5 speeds and 3 speeds as well as 10 speeds.
The Scorcher paid two dollars at a neighborhood garage sale for a 1972 burgundy 10-speed model, complete with big stem shifters stamped with the Schwinn "S." It has the famous Varsity "electro-forged" frame, a Schwinn-approved mattress spring saddle, and 10 fabulous, non-indexed gears. It's very satisfying to pull that giant shift lever to change gears, then adjust its position until the chain settles on the selected cog and the chattering stops. The substantial bar grips and the solid frame make swooping around smoothly paved suburban street corners a blast, and the saddle offers just the right amount of cushion for shorter rides. The Scorcher digs the Suburban.
Just don't call ever call us The Suburban.
The Scorcher 11.19.01