Retired attorney now enjoying ride of his life
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By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Michael Tsai
The 1952 Schwinn Phantom bicycle is a beautiful thing.
Its art deco styling gracefully integrates a host of innovations, from glass-encased front and rear lights, a very early handlebar-mounted drum-brake system, a key-operated handlebar lock, and a springer suspension that paved the way for the advanced suspension systems of modern mountain bikes.
What it is not is fast. It has no need for shifters because there is only one speed — moderate. And, while its 2.125-inch balloon tires assure an incredibly smooth ride, they also lay so much rubber on the pavement that anything faster than cruising speed would require quadriceps the size of, well, balloons.
And that's perfectly fine with cycling enthusiast and vintage bike collector Bruce Stewart.
Stewart, a former competitive cyclist who now rides solely for enjoyment and good health, will join an estimated 4,000 recreational cyclists in Sunday's Honolulu Century Ride.
He won't be hard to spot. Amid a sea of spandex-clad riders straddling high-tech, lightweight road bikes, the 60-year-old retired attorney will once again embody the event's eternal slogan — "enjoy the ride" — as he cycles slowly but surely on his '52 Phantom, one of nearly 20 classic bicycles in his collection.
"When I was competing, it was all about the finish line," Stewart says. "Now, I try to enjoy the journey. I stop and smell the flowers and I don't worry about the destination. I try to live my life the same way."
The interconnectedness of Stewart's lifelong love of cycling and his evolving philosophy of life were clarified by a recent string of life-threatening health problems.
Three years ago, Stewart was cycling with friends when he found himself unable to control his bike. He visited a neurologist, who promptly ordered an MRI. The next day, Stewart underwent a nine-hour surgery to remove a benign brain tumor that had developed near the top of his spinal cord.
Four months later, another tumor developed in the same area. Although this too was non-malignant, the aggressive measures needed to treat it have left Stewart with lingering range-of-motion problems on his right side.
"I can actually bike better than I walk," he says.
Stewart credits his quick rehabilitation — therapists called him a "miracle" patient — to his neurologist, Dr. Dennis Crawley, and to the fitness he had gained through cycling.
"I've been blessed," he says. "I was fortunate that I enjoyed cycling. It's a symbiotic relationship, but I think cycling has given more to me that I have given to cycling."
But his trials were not over. Last September, at the start of yet another bike ride, Stewart was again stricken.
He had gotten about 100 yards from his home when he started bumping into the curb. It was a chilling and all-too-familiar loss of motor function, and he wondered whether the tumor had returned.
In fact, Stewart had suffered a stroke, which doctors later determined was not related to his tumors.
Even that couldn't keep Stewart off of his bike. Two weeks later, he rode the Phantom some 60 miles in the Honolulu Century Ride.
Stewart, who grew up on Maui, recalls the first bike he ever owned: a Schwinn Varsity (or was it a Continental?). It was an early 10-speeder with fat balloon tires and a heavy frame built from 100 percent U.S. steel.
"It was indestructible," Stewart says. "I used to jump off of it to see how far I could run without falling down. I never worried about the bike because I knew it wouldn't break."
Later, after his family moved to Florida and he began cycling in national competitions, Stewart put aside his old, reliable Schwinns in favor of a sleek, classic green Bianchi.
Stewart put away the bikes temporarily to pursue a career in commercial litigation. But his love of the sport continued and eventually he found himself riding again.
Stewart's interest in collecting began after he purchased a low-frills, rusted cruiser to get to the beach. Someone noticed his bike and offered to sell him an old Schwinn.
Since then, Stewart has developed an almost encyclopedic knowledge of the evolution of American-made bicycles. His collection includes a 1941 Schwinn Deluxe Autocycle with an original flyer that declares, ominously, "Due to unsettling circumstances, prices are subject to change without notice."
"They knew war was coming," he said. "They didn't know when, but they knew it was coming."
Most of Stewart's collection is housed at Eki Cyclery, one of the oldest Schwinn dealerships and a hub of the local cycling scene for generations.
Stewart is friends with owners Jay and Jayne Kim. In Jay, he says, he has a comrade whose interest in and appreciation for old bicycles matches his own.
Stewart has ridden in nearly every Honolulu Century Ride since moving back to Hawai'i 15 years ago. Just as his classic bikes perfectly suit his new approach to cycling and life, so too does Stewart's embrace of the journey (not the destination) match the ethos of the event.
The Honolulu Century Ride, organizers constantly emphasize, is a ride, not a race. Over the years, the event has allowed thousands of riders of all ages and skill levels to tour the island safely and in good company.
Just as Stewart likes it.
"Cycling has been very good to me," he says. "It's just the idea of having a reason to get up in the morning and participate in life."
Reach Michael Tsai at email@example.com.