When I was 30 years old I put together the coolest bicycle on the planet, my Cloud Bike. It’s a one-of-a-kind machine with an incredible paint job and cool Italian parts. This bicycle brings me great happiness and complete comfort borne of tens of thousands of miles spinning its pedals and gripping its handlebars along roads from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico, the Ozarks to the Appalachians to LBJ’s Hill Country.
Why, then, could I want to replace it?
The emphatic answer is that I do not. I do, however, want to repeat it.
On Jan. 6, 1995, I ordered the ’94 Campagnolo Athena Ergo custom package from Colorado Cyclist. It was delivered by UPS to West Plains, Missouri.
On Oct. 18, 2016, I ordered the ’15 Campagnolo Chorus 11 group set from Colorado Cyclist, operating then and now from East Bijou in Colorado Springs. It was delivered by UPS to Tallahassee, Florida.
Nothing could ever replace the Cloud Bike. I’ve wheeled along too many roads sitting in its saddle, pedaled up too many climbs standing on its cranks and steered down too many thrilling descents leaning out over its front hub. This summer, after more than a decade of only sporadic riding, I put another 2,500-plus miles on the Cloud Bike. My love was rekindled and undiminished. The Cloud Bike is dependable and beautiful. I am intimately familiar with its feel and its sound, its limits and its possibility.
As I rode through the North Florida heat this summer, though, I became acutely aware of age – both my own and the bicycle’s. I’m 51 now, and out of shape. The beautiful parts on the Cloud Bike are old enough to drink at 21. And the frame it’s all built upon is even older – underneath the sky and clouds of the paint job is the frameset of a 1988 Cannondale ST400.
Renewed interest in cycling also expanded online and I became aware of the niche-interest freaks social media allows to find one another. There are a lot of bicycle fetishists out there, devoted to fixed-gear bikes or steel bikes or fat-tired bikes or steel-framed fat-tired fixies. I soon noticed this international crowd were showing off “vintage” bikes and components younger than my ’95 Campag/’88 Cannondale Cloud Bike.
Not only were these show bicycles not as old as mine, they were far less cool.
Incredibly cool and showing its age. Stuff started to break down. Some of it needed to be replaced, like the Ergo lever’s seized-up ratcheting. Other parts needed full breakdown maintenance, as with the rear derailleur. Bicycles are like that. Everything is connected. A bicycle and its component parts are interconnected and interdependent. It is a collection of simple machines joined into a complex and elegant rolling wonder.
If all is right, the rider is just as much a part of that seamless combination as the chainring’s connection to the sprockets.
So as much as I have anticipated putting together a 21st century version of the Cloud Bike, I’ve got serious misgivings.
The cloud bike is aluminum. Two decades on, there is no question about its soundness. In July 1995 I ran smack into the back of a parked station wagon pedaling the Cloud Bike at about 18 miles an hour in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. I broke a rib and a helmet while earning a concussion. The Cloud Bike’s steel fork bent backward, but the wheel was bulletproof (it didn’t even come out of true or round) and the frame utterly unfazed.
My new ride, Hugo Black, on the other hand, will be carbon fiber. I know not how it will fare. I do know it’s much more fragile, at least when up against some forces. I do know the new bicycle will be much lighter. I do know it would be much cheaper for me to lose 10 pounds than to pay the premium for this gram-shaving approach. I do know it’s ridiculous for a 51-year-old man weighing 200 pounds to have such a high-performance machine.
I also know I love to ride the Cloud Bike and every penny of its cost has been recouped in joy delivered. I can only hope for half the return on investment from Hugo Black. There is plenty I do not know but look forward to learning.
Let’s go for a ride.