I was 29 years old when I bought this 1993 Bianchi Nyala in a Memphis bike shop off Germantown Road in unincorporated Shelby County. I thought this bicycle was remarkable with a gearing range beyond any I’d ever known and exotic with an elliptical chainring that orbited around the axle in an ovoid hitch-a-loop while rolling along on the none-more-grunge knobby tires. The tires were a skosh beyond 2 inches wide and encapsulated fat tubes holding air at 60 psi.
The machine seemed a wonder to me as I rode it around the west side of West Plains, circumnavigating the golf course and over to the Meek’s Lumber, across the truck route of the federal highway and up the hill on the other side past the old Brill place. Then perhaps back and across and out beyond to a paved county road lined by roadside mailboxes and circling back to the subdivision and the neighborhood and the house.
There were 21 gears. The mechanical advantage ranged from the comfortable gain offered by a modest 48-tooth chainring to an equally mild 13-tooth small-end sprocket. The granny gear and big sprocket offered a negative ratio to spin up steep grades.
Another day and my ride was more direct – out and back straight away on my street and unwaveringly proceeding westward, the concrete of the neighborhood giving way to chip seal beyond the city limits and graded dirt and gravel of the still-further reaches of the road until it gave out and curved into County CC.
First I cranked up, then I blasted down a snow-and-ice covered access road to Kyle’s Landing on the Buffalo National Scenic River in January on this Bianchi. This was the day after I was crowned Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. You could look it up.
I discovered two friends who asked me to join them on their early morning rides. I did, and couldn’t keep pace, even with the addition of higher-pressure slicks. (In response, I bought a used road bike. Suddenly, I was able to hold my friends’ wheels. This was destined to become the Cloud Bike.)
For the most part, I stopped riding the Bianchi then. Infrequently I would drag it out to a trail and give the off-road thing yet another try only to once again be by turns bored, overmatched, scared, and frustrated only to hang the bike for another long dormancy. Alternatively, and largely alternately, I’d make a concerted effort to city bike or even commute. Sweat and pants legs and rain showers and darkness and the special awfulness of carrying and using a U-lock would inevitably intervene to persuade me of my folly. I’d give it up.
Here is where we find each other in Ye Olde Bike Shoppe. Lyssa needed a bicycle. The Bianchi needed to gain performance and lose weight with a few required parts replacements. The headset races, for instance, were pitted and no amount of adjustment would make the turning of handlebars smooth. I believe my other choices, the discretionary decisions, realized the greatest cost-benefit ratio – a new bottom bracket with sealed bearings were a low-cost winner, to name one.
I spent just about the same dollars on replacements and upgrades as I did on the original bicycle. Other changes were small but delivered outsize aesthetic improvements. I think the brake cable yokes, for example, are big wins.
The color scheme and design continuity among components is poor. It weighs a wee bit.
It rides like a champ, spins like a mother, and is a looker as a novelty.
We’ll walk through the particulars next time.