A Man, a Boy, and a Bike: A Reunion Story

By Coach Justin

1994 GT Dyno Compe BMX

Who cares about your old bike?

Personal exploration and development.  Successfully delivering a book in that category earns you a shelf slot among the Malcolm Gladwells and Wayne Dyers of the bookstore.  A spot on the Today Show even!  Perhaps I could craft a story that delivered a universal truth to be applied to a reader’s own deep dive into their souls.  Perhaps.  Or I can tell you a story about a bike.  About a boy, a bike, a struggle to know thyself, and the revolving characters that played a role in the process.  

 1993 brought a new town, a new school, and a new start for my mom and her two elementary-school-aged kids.  Today, looking through a more understanding set of eyes, I see more challenges, infinite more challenges, than I understood as a bowl-cut sporting preteen.  Moving to Bettendorf, IA, a mid-90’s family, began a new chapter.  

Census-based diversity in Bettendorf doesn’t capture the minutiae of an 11-year old’s developing psyche.  No.  The hyperactive, loud-mouth kid saw in others that which he didn’t have, and boasted about what was his and not theirs.  A punk.  I’ve never needed hourlong shrink sessions to know that I compensated for the insecurity brought on by being a different family.  Mom here, dad there, and the little emotional nicks that come from seeing classmates living The Wonder Years Arnold family lifestyle at after-school pickup and team sports events.  

6th Grade School Picture

Burying those thoughts deep, I forged solid friendships with the neighborhood crew.  Hours of home run derby, street hockey, and night games cured any sense of estrangement.  One luxury stood above the rest in this healing-through-activity process.  A 1994 GT Dyno Compe, in plasma purple.  

A smile smears my face when I think about why the plasma purple.  That year GT delivered the coveted freestyle-BMX bike in 3 colors.  Brian already had the gloss black and Brett had the silver.  Anyone who’s anyone knows you can’t copy a friend’s whip.  (Exception: if you gain permission, and sincerely express your reverence for their coolness, you may beg to copy.  Know you’ll always be second, however.) Plasma Purple, the color left standing, and I was hellbent on getting one.  

My first “bike shop” bike, courtesy of Bike and Hike in Rock Island, IL.  Sure, I’ve been fortunate to have new bikes from big wheels to training wheels to department store BMX, but a bike from an actual bike shop?  It was my Red Ryder BB Gun.  Looking back I’m not sure how my mom justified it, not logically anyway.  Working as a legal assistant during the day, making a speedy, nightly dinner while still in her heels and skirt, and then working on evening classes at the community college for her degree, she had a full plate.  Toss in the 20 years my sister and I bickered incessantly, and, well, you get the picture.  Begging for an understanding of how she pulled it off, on a phone call last week, my mom simply said, “I don’t know how I made it work.  I’m not sure what was cut out of the budget.”  I believe her.  I believe she doesn’t know now and she didn’t know then.  For all of the traits that increase that woman’s “crazy”: being late to every function, ever, to frantically speeding out of the door with hair on fire to milking the last couple of miles from an empty gas tank, the one that stands above the rest is her unwavering commitment to providing the best version of what she’s got to her kids.  I’m sure she bought that bike the same way she provided for all of our rapidly changing interests, with a “yes” first and a plan never.  She was an endurance athlete without a sport, steadfast, head-down commitment without a sensor for pain or quit. 

A typical preteen with two-wheeled freedom.

The daily route didn’t change much.  If 1994 had Strava I would’ve been the most boring athlete to follow.  Free to travel miles in minutes, we stormed the same local businesses with mere coins in our pockets but saucer-sized eyeballs.  Teske Pet Store to look at lizards and spiders.  MVP Sports Cards to map our path to fortune through our collections.  Bettendorf Life Fitness Center for hours of basketball.  Finally, to Happy Joe’s Pizza where we knew how to trip the game machines to spit out massive amounts of tickets.  Yeah, we ruled the town.  Unstoppable.  

The older kids (older to 11 and 12-year-olds means a year or two) pushed their BMX bikes harder than our neighborhood route.  They built jumps, they spun their bars, and they were infinitely cooler.  We need to be cool too.  Time to BMX.  

Glorified memories skew my recollection.  Ask me what we did next and I’ll tell you we built the biggest tabletop ramp ever constructed.  We launched 15’ in the air learning tail whips, truck drivers, and Superman seat grabs.  Built in 3 pieces, we pulled it into the small backyard at our condo each night.  How did the coin-bank get the materials?  Stolen from a construction site of course.  This ramp, and the indoor bike park that opened at the height of X-Games maturing on ESPN, and the dirt jumps we built down by the quarry became our new route.  None of us ever made the X-Games but we could’ve, just ask me.   

Growing up and moving on.

Team sports, girls, and then high school stole away childish antics for me just like every teen.  This story lacks a unique path to this point.  All kids grow up, ditch the 20” bike, and move on.  Later Purple Plasma.  

1990’s school years in the Midwest, and then in Arizona, saw me chasing new short-term goals: how to get more Abercrombie clothes, which new Nokia faceplate to get for my cell, and how to perfect my clutch-grind to burnout in a 1992 Saturn SL2 became the questions begging answers.  The need to show status never abated.  Things, things, and things.  They maketh the man. Right? 

That longed-for right of passage, the driver’s license, definitely interrupted my two-wheel fun for some time.  A Gary Fisher Joshua F4, full-suspension mountain bike, played a role in these years but we’ll come back to that some other time. 

Returning to the bike.

For 9 years I’ve chased myself and others, and I’ve run from myself and others, all atop two-wheels.  Today my proudest achievements come from the bike.  Racing, exploring, and redefining myself in a simple, clear way.  How far, how fast, and how often are the questions begging answers.  And one doesn’t know where one is going until one knows…

That dusty memory in the garage. 

18 months ago, on a trip to Mom’s for Thanksgiving, my frustration with her hoarder garage came crashing down.  There was the Dyno.  After nearly 3 decades, children grown and left, and that bike still there.  A dusty, grimy, nonfunctional heap, surely, but still there.  With my personal OCD-garage decorated with professional-level bikes that put me atop podiums and could double as pieces of engineering art, seeing that purple paint hidden beneath years of waiting prompted an immediate plan.  Restore the Dyno.  Reclaim the starting point in my bike story.  

The rebuild.

Spoiler alert: the frame, stem, fork, and chainring.  That’s all that survived the teardown.  Apple not fallen far I guess, that dusty heap sat in my garage for 18 months.  The plan never hatched.  One day.  Amid my business being temporarily shut down, my activities limited by State-mandated stay-at-home directives, and our future relying on best-luck scenarios, I did what my mom did.  I spent a bunch of nonrenewable assets on the parts needed to bring my history to my present.  How?  Who cares.  Mom didn’t answer that question and look at me now Ma!


Colin and Harley, bike nerds, the minds behind Base Camp Cyclery, cleared the path for this restoration.  Highly-caffeinated, teeming with unspent energy from days of 8+ hour sleeps, and intent on doing it NOW we pieced together the parts.  As the city shut down around us, we spun wrenches, cut our knuckles, relearned tricks from our preteen years, and together became reacquainted with our youth.  Colin’s insistence on the Odyssey Triple-Trap pedals because they were “90’s proper” reminded him of how he used to file the individual teeth of the pedals so they’d grip into his shoes better.  Harley favoring the ODI grips, in matching purple, started him down the tunnel of BMX grip donuts, foam rings to protect the blister that always formed on the thumb knuckle when getting after it on the pedals.  3 guys, at or nearly to “The Hill” and we ping pong back memories from the simple days of BMX.  

No sense of estrangement.  No measuring up against one another’s “have’s” and “not’s”.  None of the self-doubt that challenged that preteen psyche.  Just friendship, memories, and two-wheeled freedom nearing restoration.   

Back on the road.

2 online orders, 1 eBay purchase, a trip to Ace Hardware, and 5 hours at a Base Camp Cyclery repair stand and Purple Plasma earned the mechanic’s green light.  Take it to the streets! 

Harley and I exchanged speedy passes down a nearly deserted Pearl Street as passerby’s maintained their 6’ distance from one another as Park Burger delivered bags of food.  Our minds not on food, not on the strange environment COVID-19 finds us, no, our minds only on how amazing those mag wheels look spinning.  Our minds on the bike.  Just the bike and the road that lay ahead. 


Last night I paraded the Dyno into our living room. Dinner cooled on the stove as Abbe turned my way. Usually, when I roll a bike into the house she fires an incredulous look that says, “Oh…you brought her in.” She knew this was different. She smiled. A few degrees removed from my level of bike-crazy and yet she understood how a circle just closed. Shoveling a fast dinner down I let her know that I needed to go for a quick spin.

For the next 45 minutes, I let go of every role, responsibility, and must-do that waited for me when I returned. I pedaled. Through the neighborhood, to Wash Park, through Capitol Hill, and to Cherry Creek, I pedaled. I looked at closed stores, empty parking lots, and outdoor lights on for no reason other than to guide the skinwall tires of Purple Plasma. For 45 minutes I was 11 years old.