It was sleek and sensual. Chrome fenders. Swooping black frame trimmed in red with white pinstripes. It had a tear drop light, wide white wall tires and a wrap-around reflector on the rear package tray. A horn was mounted inside the frame tank and it featured cantilevered suspension by a chrome, spring-mounted front fork. It was beauty on wheels, that Schwinn Phantom.
I’ve always been attracted to things with wheels, toy cars and trucks, motorcycles, trains (models and real ones), pickup trucks and bicycles. Not just every wheeled thing, however. They must be uniquely designed with eye catching lines, flowing and liquid. The first Mustang and T-bird, for example. The Zephyr passenger train (see below). The first BMW R100 RS motorcycle (also below). The PT Cruiser.
But the Schwinn Phantom was more than an attraction, it inspired a love affair. The bicycle was classic. It was to bicycles what the Burlington Zephyr was to passenger trains, the culmination of design with function. A work of art.
I got my Phantom as a hand-me-down from my cousin. But used or new, I reveled in the beauty of the machine. In truth, I doubt my eleven year old sense of esthetics amounted to little more than, “Wow, that’s neat! Look at that chrome.”
What I lacked in sophistication, however, I made up for in pure, intense emotion. I loved that bike.
In fact, the Phantom was too tall for my short legs. It was tough to pedal a too-big bike. I was glad the roads around our house had just been paved. Before this, one roadbed was rocks and the other was sand on hard clay. Neither were bike friendly. But on pavement I could glide. That I had to sling my small body from one side to the other didn’t matter, it was beautiful and it was mine. I reveled in my great fortune. Life was good.
We lived in a small town in a shotgun house on a corner. It stood out like a sore thumb, every side visible to a street or alley. So there was no place to hide anything, no garage or outbuilding. I parked the Phantom behind the house and, alas, after a few days it was stolen. I was heart-broken. I experienced grief for the first time. I remember being unable to concentrate in school, and asking over and over why anyone would steal from another, and why this happened to me? I learned the hard lesson to not fall too deeply in love with things for they can disappear in the dark of night. And I learned there is evil in the world. People do bad things to other people.
I got over it, of course, but I pined for the Phantom. Occasionally I rehearsed the story of the lost bike to my wife, reminisced and left it at that. Years later, I saw one in a bicycle shop in Seattle and rushed in to discover a restored Phantom in pristine condition sold for, gulp, $2,500. Too rich for my budget no matter how warm the memory.
That was years ago, a lifetime, in fact. Last week I came home from a trip to find in the hallway, a Phantom! I let out a yelp and immediately dropped my suitcase and sat on the bike. Sharon and Jinny had ordered a reproduction. It’s green and white but never the less it’s the same classic styling. It’s also got multiple gears, which the original, to my recollection, didn’t have. (But a “mature” Boomer needs that extra help.) It has the same tear drop headlight, horn in the tank and sweeping lines. It, too, is a work of art.
So I immediately took the bike out for a spin. It was pure joy. My heart pumped and it wasn’t from lack of exercise.
When I returned, I brought the bike back inside the house. Sharon looked slightly puzzled and a bit surprised. Wary, she asked, “Where are you going to keep it?”
To which I replied, “In the bedroom, of course.”