I was in an obsessive bicycle cruiser phase when I decided to order a brand new Huffy Cranbrook for the whopping sum of $88, which included free shipping. Just one issue though: every single vehicle gracing my garage (including five bicycles) up to that point had done some sort of epic journey which for simplicity’s sake, I’ll define as a trip spanning at least two hundred miles in a day. The Huffy, then, would have to earn its spot in garage.
The Huffy had not even arrived at my doorstep before I was planning a grand adventure for it. Colorado Springs seemed a natural destination for it since my friends Lisa and Jeremiah lived down there. I figured, maybe I could combine the ride with a visit to them and maybe join in some sort of late evening cruiser ride that is en vogue in hip cities such as Portland or Fort Collins.
That’s when Kelly gave me some bad news. “I really don’t think a Huffy could make it to Colorado Springs from Fort Collins,” said the Specialized bicycle representative and founder of Bicycle Trunk Locks.
“Really?” I replied. The thought of it not being able to actually did not even cross my mind. It had two wheels, tires, pedals, and was going to be brand spanking new, for heaven’s sake. Why wouldn’t it be able to make it?
After a moment’s pondering, I concluded that the journey simply wasn’t about the bike. “Sure it may be heavy, but it’s more about the engine,” I replied. “For example, if Lance Armstrong was riding it, he still probably would beat me to Colorado Springs even if I was pedaling one of my road bikes.”
Kelly remained unconvinced. Which to me simply spelled challenge! Now I was really psyched for this ride, if only to prove that it could be done.
A few hiccups in planning
As I looked more into the matter, the more I started to regret my bout of verbal machismo.
For one thing, there was the matter of the route. Driving to Jeremiah and Lisa’s house in Colorado Springs entails a mere 120, maybe 130, miles that are mostly on the highway, but bicycles are disallowed on Interstate 25. I then plotted out the shortest route possible using gmap-pedometer.com, but the distance turned out to be closer to 145-150 miles. To ride down to Colorado Springs and back would entail about 300 miles of riding. I was initially thinking it would be 250 miles, which already would have been a tall order.
Then there was the bicycle itself. Despite my defense of a bicycle in which in its entirety cost less than, oh, the tires or saddle of any one of my other bikes, I couldn’t even make it around the neighborhood in any of my test rides because the tires kept unseating. This resulted in the tubes escaping out of the tire carcasses and bursting. Spontaneously exploding tires are not a good thing.
When I envisioned the ride I also figured I could swap out the pedals for any of the clipless pedals from my other bicycles. This would allow me to pull up and back on the pedals, using the hamstrings, instead of simply stomping down. But the Huffy pedal axles turned out to be spindlier than the clipless pedals. Short of rigging, say, toe clips and straps to the plastic Huffy pedals, I would have to use them as is with mechanically inefficient street shoes.
By the launch date I did “solve” the exploding tire issue by purchasing some slightly tighter-fitting, Chenh Shin cruiser tires on Amazon.com for $12.99 each—which effectively increased the cost of the bicycle 30% or so. (Note: I later learned that with cruiser tires, you must make sure the tire sidewalls “hook” onto the sides of the rim while you inflate the tires—even if you have to do such seating by hand. Doing so should have allowed me to inflate the stock tires up to 45-55 PSI without explosion.) I also mounted homemade head- and taillights from parts acquired at Home Depot, Harbor Freight, and a housing material recycling center. Never mind that such pimping increased the weight of the bicycle by another three or four pounds. The bicycle now weighed 40 pounds.
By the time I was to embark on the Fort Collins to Colorado Springs adventure, I had logged only a whopping 3.1 miles due to the aforementioned issues. Never mind that; the newly dubbed Huffster was a go!
The Ride: Day 1
Below are notes that I never fleshed out into a full write-up.
- Incessant squeaking of the saddle with every pedal stroke. Even resorted to trying to lubricate the saddle by squirting water on the rails, but this failed to silence the squeak.
- Cruising speed was about 10 MPH, or 12 MPH with effort.
- First major stop was at a Subway north of Denver for a foot-long tuna sandwich. So far so good.
- The greenways through Denver were super nice, but I got lost a few times. Would have helped to have had some sort of GPS system to help me navigate, but I did not even own a smart phone at that time.
- About 40 miles north of Colorado Springs, I had to call Tori to look at my route on the Internet to make sure I was going the right way. I was thinking maybe I was going the wrong way because the roads seemed to be going more west than I had imagined, and also because I was really surprised by the amount of climbing.
- About 20 miles from Palmer Lake, it started pouring. Two guys in a pickup truck pulled alongside me and asked me if I’d like a ride. I declined, but I did pull over under a tree for a few minutes to text Lisa my status.
- Nearly two hours after encountering the pickup truck I made it to Palmer Lake, elevation 7,225 feet. A mile later I heard two guys cheering for me on the balcony of a bar. “You made it!” they exclaimed. “We passed you a couple hours ago in the pickup truck!” I smiled, thanked them, but wasn’t quick thinking enough to tell them I not only made it through those 20 miles in the rain, but actually 123 miles from Fort Collins up to that point.
- Then I rode on the Santa Fe Trail for the next 20 or so miles. It was pleasant to be away from all the cars even though it was a dirt and sand trail that had a number of significant hills. I had to walk up a short but steep 50-footer at one point. One issue that manifested itself by this time was my handlebars were not bolted on tight enough. Hence, they would slip downward whenever I hit a big bump.
- I was still on the Santa Fe Trail by the time it got dark and had to start using my lights. The lights worked well.
- By the time I got to Lisa and Jeremiah’s house, it was 8:45 p.m.—or nearly 19 hours after the 3:00 a.m. start time. However, that included many photo stops, getting lost and having to check for directions. There was still time for dinner.
- At my friends’ house, Jeremiah—a SRAM employee who has a virtual bicycle shop in his garage—gave me some lubricant to silence the saddle. He also gave me three new AAA batteries to replace the dying ones in my makeshift taillamp, and a wrench to tighten the handlebar bolt. Thanks, Jeremiah!
The Ride: Day 2
- Got a 6:00 a.m. start or so. Figured it would take less time to return to Fort Collins now that I was familiar with the route.
- Still got lost a few times. Riding a few miles on Santa Fe Drive near Highlands Ranch (U.S. Highway 85) was a little unnerving. To stay safe I rode off-road by the highway a few times.
- On the greenways I got two flat tires. Changing flat tires on the Huffy is a little more difficult than my other bikes because to remove the wheel, I had to unscrew two nuts due to a lack of quick-release. Note to self: inject Slime into the tubes in the future.
- Was cruising along Colorado Blvd. like I had a motor. Had a little bit of a tailwind.
- Got to Loveland and south Fort Collins as it was getting completely dark.
- By 10:00 p.m. or so (16 hours after I had left that morning), I was back home. Made it!
This turned out to be one of my fondest adventures. Despite the mechanical issues, the bike was supremely comfortable with its fat, springy seat and upright position. The bicycle even garnered compliments like “cool bike!” by several people along the way. Its humble Huffy origins, in addition being only one-speed and weighing as much as a boat anchor, only added to its mystique.
More than one person afterward asked me if this was some sort of world record for a Huffy. Maybe one day I will contact the company to see.
I did conclude one more thing from the ride, however. Lance Armstrong would not have beat me to Colorado Springs if he was riding the Huffster and I was riding one of my other bikes. Not even doping would have given him a chance.
The route (at least the intended one. I got lost quite a few times and added on at least six miles on the way to Colorado Springs.)