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  • Writer's pictureGeoff Kronik

DeRosa Resurrected

Updated: Jul 15, 2023

The racing bike is Italian, the brand is DeRosa, and it’s a certifiable classic. I know this because that was the word, along with “awesome,” that a cyclist half my age called out once as he zipped by on his sleek new carbon-fiber rocket-ship. The DeRosa was a gift from my sister 20 years ago, and it has given me countless happy miles, but for the last year I neglected to ride it even once.

There was no good reason for this. I'd continued cycling through the cratered moonscape of Boston's streets, but on my hybrid bike with its more forgiving frame and softer tires. That bike is to my DeRosa as a Toyota RAV-4 is to a Ferrari, but it absorbs the bumps which increasingly rattle my seniorish body, and it has lower gears that flatten the hills near where I live. And so road conditions and topography conspired in the sort of insidious rationalization that can afflict the aging: I began to think road biking wasn’t for me anymore.

Recently I visited my sister, an excellent cyclist, and she knocked out an 8-mile ride with a thousand feet of elevation on a quick lunchtime workout. From my perspective, she might as well have conquered the Alpe D’Huez. And did I mention she's my older sister? I would be seeing her again in a month, and I knew cycling would be on the agenda. Visions of her waiting impatiently as I lumbered uphill, having regressed fifty years back to my annoying-little-brother phase, came into my head. The prospect was unbearable.

There is beauty in demanding something of your body that has long been dormant--whether for honorable reasons like injury, or bad excuses like sloth or potholes--and having your body meet the challenge. You stand in the pedals, your brain says “go”, and off you go, shedding doubts like a worn-out skin. Exercise is a miracle drug, but such moments of victory are an extra-strength dose. You commit the simple act of riding a road bike after time off, but the psychological as well as the physical experience are pure glory.

With the specter of a sibling ride a month away, I came home from that visit to my sister determined to train. The DeRosa hung on a rack in my basement, its tires sadly deflated, and as I took it down, the front wheel swung with a pathetic creak. I pumped up the tires, lubed the joints and donned the special shoes whose plastic block on the sole dovetails with my clip-in pedals.

Already I was feeling a sense of achievement. The crisp clack-clack of walking in cycling shoes can make you feel like a pro before you even get on your bike. The slinky feel of Spandex shorts and a clingy hi-vis jersey can have a similar effect, even if the reality is you look like a giant, multi-colored, overstuffed bratwurst. As I pedaled off, the DeRosa’s components worked silently and flawlessly beneath me, and I felt reunited with a part of myself that had been missing for a year.

I never cycled competitively, but riding for fun and fitness has long been a part of life. I grew up in Ithaca, New York, which sits on a forty-mile-long lake, and to cycle around that lake was a rite of passage for the ambitious back then; perhaps it still is. My sister and I first did the ride when we were 16 and 13, respectively. It took eight hours, and beyond sandwiches and cookies, I’m not sure how much food we carried, or if we even brought water. And I was riding a 3-speed Raleigh “girl’s bike” handed down from you-know-who, which my father had clunkily modified with another bike’s too-short crossbar when I complained about the emasculation.

As Norman MacLean writes in A River Runs Through It , “what a beautiful world it was once.” What a beautiful world it was when a minimally-provisioned middle-schooler and high-schooler could undertake a hilly ninety-mile bike ride, without cell phones, and their parents simply said, “be careful” or something similar and it was a fun adventure and lifelong bonding experience. The world is still beautiful of course, in countless ways, although it is certainly a different and arguably more complex one.

But there was nothing complex about my first ride on the DeRosa in more than a year. It was joy, pure and simple. I went a scant eight miles, with a respectable 350-foot elevation gain, but had to pause and catch my breath halfway up the hill. No matter: I knew conditioning and discipline would help me ascend that grade nonstop soon enough. Riding down a steep slope later, I felt the thrill of speed in my heart and the cooling rush of air on my face. Throughout the entire ride, I felt my body working together with the machine under me, smoothly, collaboratively and harmoniously,

Which seemed fitting for two classics, one twenty years old, the other sixty-plus, both of which still should have a few good miles left in them.

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