Words and photos by Jeff Della Penna
Jimmy was standing out in front of his house when I arrived. Next to him, leaning against the wall, was a dusty, dirty, dark green bicycle with two flat tires.
“This is it,” Jimmy said. “Ned Worthington’s bike.”
Ned Worthington? I racked my brain and came up empty. Jimmy is one of those people who knows everybody. I’m not like that. I’m pretty good with faces, not good with names. But, I can tell you this—I never forget a bike … and I’d never seen this one before.
It was an older, classic road bike with black “Serotta” logo decals, trimmed in gold.
“Wow, a Serotta!” I said, “Is it really a Serotta?”
The decals seemed like the wrong color. With the bike’s dark green paint job, I would have thought that the decals would have been Serotta’s white logo, trimmed in gold or black. It seemed “off.” It just didn’t match. I’ve seen a lot of bikes with phony decals before, so it was a fair question.
“Yeah,” Jimmy said. “Ned spent a ton of money on it.”
I stood and studied the bike. Definitely a diamond in the rough, but at that moment it looked sad, neglected, un-loved. Under the dust, the bike showed some signs of disrepair. It had a set of newer, cheap model Japanese brake-levers and it was missing the front derailleur. It had a little rust bubbling under the paint on the top tube. The drop bars were tilted a bit down. Its black handlebar tape was coming loose in a couple of sections. Both of its tires were completely flat and dried out. The bike, in its current state, reminded me of a bird with clipped wings, unable to fly.
Within the racing community in the late ’70s, Serotta was always known as “Very Special.” Ben Serotta had built a high-end shop in Saratoga, New York, and produced expensive frames from the early ’70s until around 2012-2013. The shop is closed now. A buy-out and take-over ended with Ben being fired from the company he had given his name to.
Jim said his friend, Ned, had bought the bike (frame) new in ’79. That would have been a big investment for Ned.
In 1979, I was racing road bikes in Central Park for Lou Maltese and the CRCA. Most guys rode Italian, and there were lots of Gios and Colnago at the Saturday morning club rides. But there were two guys who rode Serotta, and those bikes were coveted.
In the mid 1980s, Serotta produced most of the 7-11 Professional Bicycle Racing Team’s bikes, and those bikes carried the decals from the Murray and then Huffy bicycle companies. Most people thought the decal deal was perfectly normal. People said the European teams did it all the time. I thought it was weird … and a little dishonest.
“It’s a big bike,” I said, guessing it was at least 61 cm, center-to-top. It turned out to be 63 cm.
“Yeah,” Jimmy said, “Too big for me!” He took a step back from the bike. “I want you to have it,” he said. “But I want you to know the back story.”
Jimmy started talking like he had to get the whole story out. He needed to impress on me that this wasn’t just any old bike.
Jimmy told me that he and Ned had met while working at a restaurant in Santa Cruz, California in 1978. They became friends, although Jimmy admitted that Ned had some “personality quirks” that made him hard to be around. “Ned was an expert about anything he got into, to the point of being a snob.”
“For example,” Jimmy explained, “Ned knew everything there was to know about wine. You couldn’t tell him anything about wine. He knew it all! And Ned was like that about bikes too … kind of snobbish.”
In 1980, Jimmy, Ned, and two other friends, all 23 years old, planned a bike trip from Abiquiu, New Mexico to New York City—a little over 2,000 miles. Ned’s plan was to go further. From New York, Ned would continue on, all the way through Europe.
I thought about that trip for a second. A bike-packing trip, on this road racing bike, with the racks and handle-bar bags that most touring riders put on their bikes to carry their gear. But this bike didn’t have any braze-ons to attach a rear rack or low-riders.
“That was Ned,” Jimmy said, shrugging his shoulders, as if that explained everything. “I think I spent $300 on my bike,” Jimmy said. “The other two guys also had modest production bicycles, like mine. But Ned, he wanted something special. And he went to New York to get it.”
I looked the components over. Ned had built his bike out with a Campagnolo drivetrain and brakes, and a custom wheelset—classic Phil Wood hubs laced to beefy 36-hole Mavic rims.
As I studied the bike, I noticed Ned ran his brakes “Moto” style, with the front brake connected to the right brake lever. When I was a kid, one of my heroes was the handsome young Frenchman, Jacques Anquetil, 5-time winner of the Tour de France. Anquetil rode Moto, so I switched my bike to Moto to be like Jacques. I’ve ridden all my bikes Moto ever since. I think it’s better! And Ned … Ned rode Moto.
Ned had been this bike’s sole owner for 37 years. This was HIS bike. I don’t have any objects—bikes, or anything—that I’ve owned for 37 years. Most of us “use” a bike, wear the components out, and then upgrade to the next “New Bike.” It’s actually cheaper to buy a totally new bike, then it is to repaint and upgrade all of the components on an old bike. Ned had kept this bicycle since he was 22 years old. How proud he must have been when people would stop him to admire the frame and the components.
It was funny trying to figure out a guy by looking at his bike. It was like going into someone’s house and looking at all the clothes in their closet. I considered how much of Ned’s life must have changed during the 37 years that he’d owned this bike. Just imagine the confidence it would have taken to be 22 and working as a waiter in Santa Cruz, and then go see Ben Serotta and buy one of his bike frames. I gathered that Ned saw himself as a “cyclist,” and if that’s what you identify as, Serotta was what you invested in. The future must have looked so bright to the 22-year-old Ned Worthington.
Jimmy handed me a newspaper clipping from their road trip to New York. Jimmy and the other two young guys all have broad grins, long hair and beards, and they are all wearing T-shirts in the picture. Ned is dressed in a wool short-sleeve jersey, a classic 6-panel cycling cap squarely on his head, and a bandana tied around his neck. No smile, just a cool look into the camera.
Jimmy also had a photograph of Ned leaning against a bike in front of the Eiffel Tower. I studied the bike in the picture. It looked like the same bike, the same chainrings and the Phil Wood hubs, but the paint job was red.
“The bike was originally maroon,” Jimmy explained. Ned, at some point in the last decade, had repainted the bike.
That explained the decals being the wrong color. I gave the bike a closer examination. It looked like Ned had done the paint job himself, rattle-can style. This is a Serotta, damn it! Why not take the frame to a professional for repainting? A new paint job, worthy of this frame, would have been $200-$400, ten years ago. It dawned on me that maybe it was money that Ned no longer had.
Jimmy told me that Ned’s girlfriend had joined Ned in Europe, and they bicycle-toured together, came home, got married, and had a beautiful baby boy.
“I ended up back in Santa Cruz,” Jimmy told me, “And eventually got married to Linda, and we had a beautiful baby girl. We also had another beautiful baby girl. And, eventually a beautiful baby boy,” Jimmy laughed.
Jimmy said the two families stayed close. “We used to vacation together,” he said. “I have a wonderful picture of our daughter and Ned’s son, when they were just little kids, sitting together in the back of my old VW van. They were buddies!”
Jimmy said that Ned and his wife didn’t work out, got a divorce—one of those rough, mean, ugly ones—but Ned stayed close to Jimmy and his family, and they often saw Ned’s son.
One year Jimmy and Ned organized another bike adventure, just the two of them. They flew up to Portland, and rode down the PCH together to meet the rest of the family in Santa Cruz.
“Ned rode this bike,” Jimmy said. “Ned kicked my ass on every climb.”
I wished the bike could talk. I was wishing I could have known this bike when it was kicking ass on every climb.
Ned’s son graduated from high school and went off to college. Jimmy’s first daughter graduated from high school and ripped through college in just 3 years. She got married right out of school and moved off with her new husband. Unfortunately, that marriage didn’t work out. She was back staying with Jimmy and Linda in Santa Fe when Ned showed up for Christmas … with his son, Daniel.
The two kids had stayed loosely in touch since high school and re-united at Christmas. Both single, they did what kids do—they fell in love, and soon they were married. Jimmy and Ned couldn’t have been happier. “Especially Ned,” Jim said. “He was jubilant!”
When the kids announced that they had a baby on the way, Jimmy and Ned were ecstatic. At one point, Ned went to visit his son and daughter-in-law. And, after the trip he left a long phone message on Jimmy’s answering machine. Ned sentimentally blathered about how excited he was about the kids, and the soon-to-arrive baby, and how he and Jimmy would be “grand-dads together!”
“Sadly,” Jim explained, “Before the baby arrived, Ned died of a heart attack.”
“We had talked about doing another bike trip,” Jimmy said. “But, Ned had a stroke a while back, and both of us were having heath issues. So, it just never happened.”
I took the bike home with me. That night I sat in a chair, looking across the room at Ned’s bike. I’ve never had a bike where I knew that the original owner had passed away.
It’s a Serotta, but it’s a simple bike. It’s not a famous bike, like one of Jacques Anquetil’s 5 Tour de France bikes. This is just a simple bike that was owned by an ordinary guy, who wore wool jerseys and cycling caps, and had big plans and bicycle dreams. But, for just a simple bike, I was amazed at how much history came with it.
The bike needs a lot of work. I don’t know if I should pull the parts, strip the paint off, clean up the rust and repaint it maroon with a white decal kit. Or, if should I just leave it green, and leave the dark Serotta stickers, and just make it rideable.
I have to say, it would sure make me feel good to clean the bike up. Show it some love again, make it shine, take it on some adventures.
I Googled the heck out of the frame and based on its ’78 production, I’m guessing it’s probably the “Titan,” distinctive within the Serotta line by it’s beefy seatstays, finished at the sides of the seat lug with an nice concave oval cap. It concerned me that there was no serial number on the underbelly of the bottom bracket, just “Cinelli S.C., Made in Italy.”
So I sent Ben Serotta a note. Ben wrote back, “Pre-1979 (as I recall) the serial number was stamped on the inside face of the dropout (a stupid place, yes my idea) and on the steering column of the fork (also silly, but at least it didn’t get worn off) … I hope this helps! -Ben”
The headset needs to be rebuilt (it’s self-centering). The bottom bracket is completely gunked-up—needs a cleaning and new grease. The chain needs some TLC. I was surprised to find both of the wheels still spin perfectly (a tribute to the quality of the Phil Wood hubs), but the steel sleeves on the hubs are showing some rust and I’m not sure how to clean them without taking the spokes off.
The bike is missing its Campy front derailleur, but I think I have one from the same time period. The tires are holding air, but I’d rather some gum-walls that will look closer to what the bike originally had. I’ll find the appropriate brake levers to replace the Japanese currently on it. And, of course, I’ll wrap the bars with a nice 1980’s-style black handlebar tape.
When we get an old iPhone or a used computer, the previous owner has hit a few keys and all the memories are wiped away. But, I can’t help feeling that this bicycle is drenched in it’s own history and memories. I know that no matter what I do to this bike, no matter how much time I invest, no matter how much money I spend, this bike will never really be mine. It will always be Ned’s bike … and I think that’s the way it needs to be.Tweet Print