Vigorous Rider, Hearty Bike
Ann Arborite Kat Curtis rides her Schwinn nearly everywhere: to work, wandering to Dexter, out on the dirt roads, wherever the need or the whim takes her. She even braved the spring monsoons on the DRW Northfield Church route and found places where a kayak might have been a better choice of transportation. “I tried to ride into what I thought was a shallow pool of water,” she said, “but found myself up to my thighs. The road was a lake!” She was wading rather than riding. But that didn’t stop her from continuing on the route.
The same goes for her determination to make this bike her main means of transport. She rides over eight miles to work and back every weekday. Rain and inclement weather don’t hinder her. “I LOVE riding in the rain. It’s one of the most exhilarating experiences, paired with quality rain gear. I love the sound of the drops on your helmet, to splash through puddles, and smell the rain and the earth.” There’s the vigorous part.
Schwinn High Plains
Her bike is an early ’90s model Schwinn, a hand-me-down from her mother. It’s one of those older bikes that’s nearly bomb proof, cranking away year after year. In college it allowed her to wander beyond the confines of the campus to explore other parts of Kalamazoo.
When it was introduced in 1990, the 21-speed High Plains was touted as a mountain/urban sport bike. By today’s standards, with its weight and rigid fork, it would be a rough ride on the trails, but as an all around commuter and back road wanderer it does a fine job. Like most Schwinns it’s a weighty bike, but tough as can be. Part of the weight comes from the sizable two basket combo added by Kat, but that also allows her to pack all kinds of things depending on the excursion. Heading to work it’s her purse and lunch, and when she wanders out on the dirt roads it includes a water bottle and picnic fare. The step-through frame allows her to commute while wearing a dress, making this a true all-around mode of transport.
The frame is chromoly, an alloy of chromium and molybdenum, with an excellent strength to weight ratio. Since it’s steel, it’s not corrosion resistant, but this bike has stood up well to the elements through the years, showing little rust. This is probably due in no small part to the paint on these bikes. Schwinn calls it “double-layer clear coat spider paint,” and though it looks crackled, this coating will withstand an asteroid strike.
The gears on bikes of this era do what they’re told with little complaint even after phases of neglect. The component heft and metal means that parts last and take a good amount of abuse. The triple front chain ring allows for very low gearing for those short steep hills we have around here. You might not climb fast, but you’ll get over the top with an easygoing spin.
The tires are solid mountain bike knobby tread. If Kat wanted to lighten the bike up a bit she could invest in a block pattern tire that roll better on the pavement and still have grip on dirt roads. I’ve even use a road pattern 26″ tire on our tandem to great effect in all conditions.
Frame: Tig Welded Chromoly
Drivetrain: Shimano 200GS
Front Chainring: Triple 48/38/28Tooth
Rear Cassette: 7 speed, 13-30Tooth
Wheels: 26″ alloy
Tires: Large knob mountain bike tread
Pedals: Metal “Rat-trap” clip-in
Handlebars: Flat with slight rise
Kat’s Dream Bike
Kat’s riding preference is to get out and explore. She’s in no rush to get from point A to point B. It’s the adventure that makes it worth the trip, feeling the breeze on her face and wandering through the multitude of spaces that riding introduces us to. To do this, she’d like a light touring bike of some kind, something that offers her all kinds of options, from commuting to longer journeys when time allows. I can envision a Surly of some kind, perhaps a Long Haul Trucker or a Cross Check, a Gunnar Crosshairs or Grand Tour, maybe a Voodoo Nakisi, or a Soma Double Cross…There are a lot of interesting options out there, many more than I just mentioned. I recommend anyone interested in looking into touring bikes go to your local library and thumb through recent copies of Adventure Cycling magazine, and even subscribe. It offers tips on bikes, riding, and accessories that appeal to the local wanderer as well as the cross-country adventurer.
The High Plains is not a high-end bike, but as a way to get around it does all that it’s asked to do and holds together year after year. Bikes like this are the backbone of the biking world. It’s a take anywhere, do just about anything wanderer. And when Kat decides to treat herself with a new bike she’ll discover that this bike was a great trainer. Hefty bikes might take a little more strength to propel, but they benefit the rider by helping to build sturdy muscles for years of riding to come.