The first time I saw an Eddy Merckx bicycle was in 1983 when I was a high school sophomore visiting friends at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. We were standing in the center of campus after a brief walking tour and wondering what we should do next when one of their female classmates rode up on a blue Merckx to say hello. Someone remarked how nice the bike was and I took notice. The frame was blue and no bigger than 50cm. All I knew then was the bike seemed exotic, rare and a technological masterpiece. Eddy’s name resonated but more in the way that Bjorn Borg’s name resonated; he was a great champion that dominated his sport but one I never saw in person and rarely on television (I did manage to see Borg).
Of course now curiosity has taken hold of me and I wish I knew a little more about the 18-year old freshman who was ahead of the curve. This was at least a couple years before the red and green 7-11 Eddy Merckx’s started being shipped over en masse by Belgium container ship, destined for bike shops in Boulder, Berkeley and Harvard Square. I suppose the movie Breaking Away had come out in 1979 so the road bike revolution was already well on its way but nonetheless the Heroes would like to give a shout-out to the 18 year old in Walla Walla for nothing more than being cool in 1983. The Heroes like to imagine that her parents were cycling obsessed and shared their passion with their daughter on long rides in the Palouse region in southeastern Washington. In this scenario, the bike was a high school graduation present.
Fast forward to 2011 when an early Eddy Merckx from 1981 showed up on eBay from a seller in the Netherlands. The bike had to be admired and contemplated every minute of every day over the course of the seven-day auction. There are two reasons for this. First was the square crowned chromed fork (gallery to come) which Heroes can talk about for hours and hours, and second was the color of the frame: a slightly oxidized version the blue Merckx seen in Walla Walla years ago.
Of course, eBay is the great time machine of our age: I want now what I could not have back then. And let’s not even get into need, carefully wrapped in the human condition — some say medical condition — known as nostalgia. Of course, the fascinating part of cycling is that nostalgia for the objects and memories of the past have very much to do with the present: I will ride this thing!
The mental condition that causes us to fixate on bicycles notwithstanding, I am certain of a few outcomes as the Heroes round up the parts for this 1981 Eddy Merckx. The first will be the joy of building up this bit of Columbus tubed steel with fellow Heroes on alternating Sundays. The second is feeling a little closer to 1983, to my own youth, and the spiritual proximity to the cool of an 18-year college freshman who clearly had her own emotional connection to her bike as she rode across campus and town. Her precocious status as chic pioneer of all things Merckx of course is not purchasable on eBay.
Words by Luke Batten. Cape by Hound