This week I took a daylong bicycle ride with Lyman to the bayou country east of New Orleans. I did not realize it would be my last ride on a bicycle I have owned since 1974, 46 years ago.
This is what the bicycle looked like during this February 2020 ride from New Orleans.
Background: I have recently come to the self realization that I have an issue with keeping things too long, if that indeed is an issue. I just keep fixing things and rarely buy new stuff: bicycles, guitars, automobiles, kitchen pots and pans. Many of my readers remember the folding bicycle that I bought in 2002 and had ultimately break in half in 2018. This Lambert bicycle story takes that to another level.
In the summer of 1974 I bicycled from San Francisco to Virginia Beach on a different bicycle, a $95.00 10 speed of the French brand Jeunet. Accompanying me were the Consolvo brothers David and Bill. I was young; I turned nineteen on the trip. The Consolvos were even younger. The whole seven weeks my French bicycle did just fine but I spent a lot of time envying Bill’s 15 speed Lambert. His bicycle exuded coolness. Just a month or two after finishing the cross-country trip, in the fall of 1974 in Virginia Beach I saw a used Lambert for sale and snapped it up. I do not remember what I paid but it was likely less than $100.00. I sold the other bicycle and the Lambert became my ride.
Lambert bicycles (whose name changed to Viscount before being bought out by Yamaha in 1978) were manufactured entirely in England, perhaps along with the Triumph TR7 sports car a last gasp of British manufacturing and design. Both the Lambert and the Triumph were flawed. Lambert bicycle frames had Lambert’s own brand of components. Their sales pitch was “space-age technology that gives the performance of an Italian racing bicycle for much lower cost.” The straight-gauge chrome-moly steel frames only weighed 3.75 lbs; the complete bicycle about 20-21 lbs, which is light even by modern standards. Most Lamberts had triple front cranks and sealed bearing hubs and bottom bracket.
Lambert bicycles were high performance and fun to ride but had faults, especially a front fork that could snap in half. A “lucky” incident for me was that during my fourth year of ownership in 1978 I loaned the bicycle for one semester to my friend Kevin while he was attending the University of Arizona. The front fork broke off on Kevin instead of me but he somehow escaped injury. Kevin returned me the broken bicycle while I was in graduate school in nearby Glendale AZ and in 1979 I bought a new chrome steel fork to replace the broken aluminum one.
I continued to ride that bicycle extensively and exclusively for years and years. I had taken it to Washington College with me for four years, the 1975 yearbook has this picture of me on it.
I spent almost two months in Europe with this bicycle on a cycle tour with my friend Vince in the summer of 1976. Here I am with this bike in where I think is Paris. It shows the leather Brooks Pro saddle that had just bought; I had that seat for over ten years before it finally fell apart.
I took this bicycle again to Europe for six weeks in 1981 with friends Tom and Steve. Even after marrying Tootie in 1983 and living a much more stable life with a full time job the bicycle continued to be my ride. I rode it 3-4 times per week all during the 1980’s.
By late eighties I had had the Lambert for close to fifteen years and the Lambert’s paint was scratched almost all the way off. I had replaced the wheels several times. The Lambert was wearing out. Hanging around a bike shop on Freret Street in New Orleans in about 1987 a guy offered me a killer deal on an almost-new Italian CIOCC racing bike with double-butted Columbus tubing and Campagnolo components. (Cinelli stem!) I am always on the lookout for a deal. At about $ 175.00 it was such a good price that I failed to notice that the frame was too small for me.
After a day or two I realized I could not ride a bicycle that did not fit me. I convinced the bike shop guy to cut me another deal; I would take all the components off the CIOCC and sell the guy back the CIOCC frame for $80.00. I would then install the wheels and components (crank, brakes, pedals, handlebars, etc.) on my Lambert frame.
With all the parts taken off I took the Lambert frame to an auto-body shop in New Orleans and had it painted a pale blue. The new “Lambert” of 1988 had no more Lambert parts except the original frame. It had the chrome replacement fork and a full set sexy 1980’s Campagnolo components.
In 1989 I took this bicycle on the 102 mile long Assault on Mount Mitchell.
I had a full time job and a wife and three children by 1992 but I continued to take rides on this bicycle several times per week. The Lambert was always finicky, always a little unstable.
On an early morning ride in 1996 I left home in Carrboro NC for what was to be a normal fifteen mile loop through the countryside on Dairyland Road. I somehow failed to properly secure the front wheel quick-release. Near my house I hit the pavement very hard when the front wheel feel off. I pulverized my elbow and sustained a concussion. I managed to heal (I still have pins in my elbow!.) From then on I took special care with that front quick-release!
In about 2002 I finally did buy a new replacement bicycle (custom-made folding PBW) but the Lambert framed bike stayed in my basement as a standby. I loaned the Lambert to friends to ride with me on bicycle tours. Tom rode it Buffalo NY – Toronto in about 2009. Lyman rode it on the western half of the Erie Canal bike path in 2012. The Lambert was funky to ride; I remember warning my fifty-something year old friends “be careful, it is fast but a wild beast.”
Tootie and I have been visiting New Orleans for years since we moved to North Carolina in 1988. Our friend Kirk very generously offered to let us store bicycles in the crawl space under her New Orleans house. Since about 2017 the Lambert has been stuffed in that dirty area. I have taken lots of rides around the New Orleans area with it since then.
The streets of New Orleans are filled with potholes. The Lambert is not only a light fragile bicycle but it also an unbalanced bicycle. It only seems safe on flat smooth highways. If I hit a pothole on the Lambert I would go down. I eventually felt so unsafe on the Lambert that I bought a fat-tire Schwinn for around town New Orleans riding.
I have also begun to realize that a fragile bicycle in a New Orleans crawl space deteriorates over time. If I wanted to keep the bicycle I have nowhere else to put it. Back in North Carolina Tootie and I live in a wonderful condominium that has little storage space. I have proudly de-cluttered my life. In the back of my head I realized that I needed to stop riding the Lambert.
Early this recent Sunday morning in New Orleans I set out on the Lambert from our short-term Uptown apartment to meet Lyman at his brother’s condo in the French Quarter for our fifty mile ride. We headed downriver through Faubourg Marigny. I guess because it was Mardi Gras season Lyman chose to forego a helmet and instead cover his bald head with a beret!
Downriver through the Upper Ninth Ward (Bywater) we crossed the Industrial Canal bridge into the Lower Ninth Ward. On St. Claude Avenue was this modernist building.
We stopped for breakfast at Gerald’s of Arabi LA, on the border between New Orleans and suburban St. Bernard Parish. There was a line of pickup trucks outside. We got seats at the counter.
At the counter Lyman complimented this guy on his hat. The man said it was a welding hat; he said the hat reminded him that he was proudly a working man.
Lyman has a sense I style that I lack. Lyman pressed the man about the hat because Lyman wanted one. The man said he had gotten it at the chain store Tractor Supply in Chalmette, just a few miles downriver. After breakfast we headed downriver towards Chalmette and the bayou countryside beyond. We figured we could stop at Tractor Supply store on the way.
We pulled into Tractor Supply. In addition to welding and farming equipment they had all sorts of farming related magazines.
We found the hats surrounded by welding equipment. The hats are supposed to go under one’s welding helmet.
Suburban New Orleans including Chalmette streets should win some kind of award for the straightest flattest residential streets in America.
We bicycled far into the bayou country east of Chalmette until we felt like turning around. On the way back we again passed the Meraux Refinery.
Just past the refinery was this pleasant modernist government building for St. Bernard Parish.
Just after entering New Orleans we biked through the area where actor Brad Pitt has funded rebuilding of an area of the Lower Ninth Ward that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He hired several world class architects for these small houses, each one different. The area is colloquially known now as Brad Pitt Houses.
While biking home it all became clear to me. I am sixty-four years old. I was having a great time but it is irresponsible for me to be riding this unstable bicycle. Lyman could help me get rid of it. He had driven his pickup truck to New Orleans from his home in Austin TX. He agreed to throw the bicycle in the back. He would help me find a home for this bicycle by donating it to the Austin organization Yellow Bike Project. It sounds similar to the organization in Chapel Hill called Recylery. Volunteers would either fix up my bike for someone or use the parts on other bicycles. My bicycle could help other bicycles live.
It was a melancholy feeling when I dropped the bicycle off the next day. I examined it closely one last time.
It was time to say goodbye.
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