During a single week in August of 2015, my personal bicycle collection ballooned by 16 bikes, with another 40-odd entrusted to me to clean, fix, and sell. The most exciting and bizarre week of of my bicycle collecting life began when I answered a craigslist ad for vintage cycling jerseys from the 1980s. I met Mary Carver, Al Shoemaker’s daughter, on account of an ad she placed for an assortment of old jerseys. Her brother David met me in a Starbucks parking lot with a trash bag full of clean and neatly folded jerseys. There were jerseys from a well-known 1980s importer of European bicycles, Ten Speed Drive, and team Jerseys from long-gone teams from all over the world. I loved the old graphics, and already had a collection of jerseys from defunct euro teams, so I was excited to see these. David told me that their Dad had passed away and the jersey’s were his. “Did he have any bikes?” I asked.
This question led me to a variety of mini-storage units, packed with bikes hanging from hooks, some nestled in their original boxes, and others more used, sitting upright, alternating front to back, handlebar to saddle. Although it was typical Arizona sweltering and humid August weather, for me, stepping into each stiflingly hot shed stuffed with bicycles was like entering a new beautiful world. My wife Deirdre had already began calling the collection a “treasure trove” and I couldn’t argue with her. David and Mary needed help, and I couldn’t help myself. We took money out of our emergency fund, because surely, this was a bicycle emergency. The first batch of bicycles I purchased was comprised of 16 bicycles that each, individually, would be considered holy grail finds. There was a “Huffy” 7-11 Team made by Ben Serotta. More notably to our family, a red Masi Gran Criterium nearly identical to the iconic bicycle that the character Dave Stoller rode in the film Breaking Away—a top ten movie in our household. In fact, we rode to Safeway and bought garlic for pasta pecorino, we brought the Masi in the house, positioned it next to the TV, and watched the movie Breaking Away. It was Italian bike night at our house.
From a Sunday to Saturday, I helped Mary sort, move, price, and recycle massive numbers of bicycles. Though the work was hot and dirty, I loved it. When I came home each night, Deirdre had begun asking me, “did you get a bicycle boner today?” and following that up with, “you are supposed to seek medical attention when they last longer than an a few hours.” But by the time Sunday had rolled around, I was going on an seven day stiffy. I was a little surprised at Deirdre’s general support for this project. One morning over breakfast, I even caught her looking admiringly at the Ferrari-red Masi, which was still prominently leaned against the bookshelf in our living room.
Al lived in a humble and quintessentially Tucson-style adobe house built in the 1940s in central Tucson. A haven for feral cats and stockpile of high-end vintage bicycles—mostly from the 1970s, 1980s,and 1990s. I was helping his daughter, Mary, sort through over 100 bikes to determine what was shit and what was worth saving. When it came to bicycles Al collected it all—soup to nuts—from cheap department store Huffy and Columbia kids bikes, to the most sought after Italian racers like Masis and Colnagos. He just couldn’t let any of it go, so here we were, on a 106 degree August day, sorting through heaps of bicycles. Mary and her husband Chad had come down from northern Utah to deal with Al’s stuff after he passed away in July. He collected a bunch of things other than bicycles: old phone books, guns, and tools, but perhaps none of it as passionately and prolifically as bicycles. Also, none of it as awkward to store, sort, and deal with as bicycles. When you are on a bicycle, it can feel as natural as walking and seem almost like an appendage, but once stop riding it, and have to push it around, it becomes disobedient and intent on falling akimbo.
Chad, jumpy because of the sticky webs and numerous black widow and brown recluse spiders and egg sacks around the sheds and in the spokes of bicycles, armed himself with a Raid can before gingerly entering the shed. I cringed a little as I saw the top tube of a lovely black Colnalgo Nuovo Mexico become shiny with insecticide, but I couldn’t blame him. Wearing shorts, I kept feeling, or imagining, creepy crawlies around my ankles. As we hauled off steel chimney flues, plywood, and all manner of tools from in front of the sheds, our shirts became soaked in sweat and a couple of Al’s old cats started skulking around, undoubtedly hoping for some of Al’s old generosity with food. “That little one is Chain Pisser,” I joked, and Chad quickly chimed in, “and the tiger there is Seat Scratcher” Hung in dark shed corners, beauties began to reveal themselves. More so than perhaps any of his other possessions, Al cared about his bicycles. The most valuable bicycles were elaborately hidden, so-much-so as to seem booby-trapped. The last two sheds had their doors blocked with junk—and even after we opened the doors, the evidence of bicycles was scant at first. In a Quonset-hut style shed, hot as an oven, Al had erected a wall of crushed aluminum cans in trash bags, and a behind that a jumble of gardening tools, and mounds of black plastic tarps and covered with sheets of Styrofoam insulation.
Al somehow managed to collect well over 100 quality bicycles (and quite a few more junkers), while still pedaling around 4000 miles per year. This fact was recorded in his mileage logs, which he taught his daughter Mary, and son David, how to keep for themselves. Even as 11-12 year olds, they rode with their dad around Tucson—even climbing up the long steep road to Mt. Lemmon, a beyond category climb and winter training ground for professional teams from around the world. Another telltale sign of how much Al actually used his bicycles was stuck to the stems and handlebars of many of his favorite steeds: he would affix the produce stickers for oranges, peaches, bananas, and apples there. Evidently Al enjoyed a good piece of fruit on a ride.
starostneradostFebruary 13, 2016 at 1:39 am
Oh come on – is that all? This riveting story just cries out to be continued.
The Beautiful BicycleFebruary 13, 2016 at 9:19 am
Don’t worry, I have other installments to this story on the way. Think of it as a serial. As it is, I spend a couple of days a week working with Al’s bicycle collection. There are many more stories to come.
Mary (Shoemaker) CarverApril 21, 2016 at 9:03 pm
Oh so many more stories to come! Scott I truly love this blog and I am so thankful some bicycle jerseys brought us together! Keep up the great work at bringing these beauties back to life! It’s great to see someone with as much appreciation for these bicycles as my dad! TO BE CONTINUED!!!