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What I did catch the following day was a pair of monster hills, both of them ascents of about four miles. I made it all the way up the first one—and most of the second—sitting down, but I resolved to put a freewheel with somewhat lower gearing on the bike when I got to Saratoga Springs that afternoon. Serotta himself supervised the switchover at a bike shop he once owned, and he and his wife. Marcie, kindly invited me to dinner.
I had pictured the Serottas as rugged individualists making it in a world that gets tougher on small enterprises every day, and that proved to be the case. After more than four years of seven-day, 12-hour-a-day workweeks, Ben, who is 26, and Marcie, 26, who contributes importantly to frame finishing by, among other things, using jewelers' files to give an impeccable tapered look to the lugs that anchor the frame tubes, have recently been able to hire an apprentice and, most weeks, operate on a six-day schedule. Their work is done in two small sheds and a third structure, not big enough to be called a barn, situated behind the solid old farmhouse west of Saratoga that the Serottas are fixing up. At peak production the Serottas can turn out 10 Club Special—that is, semicustom—framesets a week; that's the kind I have. They also build custom racing and touring frames tailored to the buyer's most finicky specs, as well as a tandem.
I liked it when Ben said he makes the best frames he can not only because his name goes on them but also because "lives are at stake." By then I had come to like everything about Ben and Marcie, and to feel inordinately proud of myself for having made the buy I did, despite the scant research on the subject readily available to laymen.
Having a Serotta also had given me a rooting interest at bike races, to which I was beginning to go, and here again I was fortunate. At the first competition I saw, the Memorial Day Tour of Somerville, N.J., Pennsylvania's Mac Martin won the 50-mile feature. In September's 100-kilometer pro-am on the boardwalk at Wildwood, N.J., Indianan Tom Doughty came home third. Because both raced Serottas in fields loaded with Italian Masis, Colnagos, and the like, as well as bikes of other U.S. frame builders, that made me 1-3 as a Serotta fan in just two highly competitive races. At Wildwood, Grotz was handling Bill Watkins, a strong rider who was the 1977 collegiate champion when he rode for Army. Watkins' day ended prematurely, because of a wheel failure; but viewing the action with Grotz and his son Mike, a first-year junior racer, I had an unusual opportunity to get the insights of experts and thus appreciate the subtle races within the race.
Except for the leg that took me to Saratoga, I had picked no specific tour route. I wanted to nose into Canada, because that seemed more of an accomplishment than staying south of the border. Plotting routes beforehand had become so time-consuming that I had chucked the deep-think approach and had started out equipped only with an Exxon road map of New England. I used knowledgeable locals to fill in the gaps. Serotta, for example, put me on to a scenic ride along the Batten Kill, a stream I followed from Cambridge, N.Y. to Arlington, Vt. At my Manchester, Vt. motel the next morning, a middle-aged man, who was clearing the swimming pool of leaves left by a storm in the night, spotted me wheeling out my bike. He wanted to know where I was headed and by what road.
"Route 7 to Middlebury," I told him.
"Nope," he said, "take Route 30."
Thus another winner—a Labor Day ride through farm and lake country on roads almost free of traffic. Free of eating places, too. Lunch was three Oh Henry! bars and a quart of orange juice bought at the store at a filling station.
Why had the man at the motel been so firm? It turned out that he was an old racer—and still a racer in his age group, I gathered—who had done "150 miles myself the day before. I have found that it is important, as a novice rider, not to be intimidated by the feats of others. And they are legion. Transcontinental rides are frequent. Seventy-year-olds routinely ride centuries—100 miles in a day. Racers are capable of prodigious speeds over implausible distances. Tour de France stage racers are obviously superhuman.
And so, taking it nice and easy, I proceeded from Middlebury to South Hero. Vt. on Grand Isle in Lake Champlain; to the Quebec town of St. Jean near Montreal; to Jeffersonville, Stowe and Rochester in Vermont, the last a hamlet 50 miles down Route 100, a big favorite of bike tourists, from Stowe. Then came a glide along the White River to its confluence with the Connecticut and a short pull to Hanover, N.H. From there I followed the Connecticut Valley south, with stops at Brattleboro, Vt.; South Hadley. Mass.; West Springfield, Mass.; and Hartford, Conn. After leaving Hartford. I swung away from the river at Middle-town and headed for New Haven on Long Island Sound. I completed the tour on the 20th day with a 55-mile roller-coaster ride westward back home.