I’m looking at the pictures of Antonin Rolland’s Louison Bobet bike from the 1955 Tour de France. Its shape and function are the same as my racing bike. A frame, saddle, handlebars, pedals, chain, derailleurs. You pedal, it’s okay. I take a closer look – This fork rake! A 5-speed freewheel, no drop from the saddle to the height of the stem, and 24 pounds!
How did they do it? They ran 250 kilometer stages and changed their own punctures. They had such a limited gear when crushing the Alps.
I squint at the photo of the yellow bike. It’s still the same as my “modern” bike. I go to the garage and look at my bike. Electric gearshift, carbon frame and components, aero tubes, aggressive racing position. I squint, it’s the same as Rolland’s vintage Tour de France machine. I squint more.
In the mid-1970s, when I was 11, my parents gave me a Gitane Jr racing bike that was a green frame with silver decals, 24 inch wheels, drop bars, Huret components, toe clips and gear shifters. I marveled at the way the chain shifted from sprocket to sprocket and the center pull brakes squeezed the aluminum rims. I rode my green French bike every day and learned to work on it. It was magic, I was in love.
I open my eyes wide and look at my current bike. Last week I stopped three times on a ride because my power meter kept disconnecting. Why was I so frustrated? I squint my eyes. I see Antonin Rolland’s yellow Bobet, I squint harder and see an 11-year-old boy riding a green Gypsy. They are all the same. It’s magic, I’m still in love.
John Gatch is one of the Johns on the Podcast Two Johns and guide cycling trips in France for VéloSport Vacations.