NEVER HAILED, PERSONAL CYCLING HERO: CHIP ESSER.
So why is there a picture of a ‘70s Nishiki and not Charles “Chip” Esser? Because I cannot find any of my old photos of him. And I have no idea where Chip is these days. He could be anywhere in the world, nothing would surprise me.
Chip was my friend, college roommate and the first person I ever met who was a serious cyclist. This was the mid 80’s and guys who wore lycra and cycled seriously were still oddballs. Add to that the fact he rode in high school, in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the oddness factor rises significantly.
He rode a red, un-badged Nishiki racing frame that he told everyone was a Masi Volumetrica. He was about 6’ 1” tall and 140 pounds soaking wet with weights in his pockets. He was a fantastic storyteller and got me hooked on the lore and old world cycling traditions. What to do, what not to do. Didn’t win Le Tour? Then don’t wear a yellow jersey. Ditto for World Champion stripes. I was hooked. I just needed a bike.
Mom and dad graciously shipped out my older brother’s dormant bike, just like the one pictured above. We immediately got to work on it, spending all night stripping it down, cleaning the parts, getting rid of the dorkier ones (see ya, pie plate and reflectors. Hasta la vista, bar-top brake levers) then re-packing it and dolling it up with matching bar tape and housings. Smoove. Nishiki, the gateway drug.
The Nishiki led to a Cannondale, which led to a Specialized, Bianchi and on up to the present day.
As for Chip? After I graduated and moved to Los Angeles, Chip – a brilliant archeology student aiming for med school – disappeared. A few short years later he called me out of the blue, late one night. Said he was in town on business. Picked me up at an ungodly hour and took me out for a drink. Claimed to be the Hong Kong distributor for Anheuser Busch. Who knows. But he was mysterious, slightly bloated and already divorced.
I don’t know where he is or what he’s up to but I truly hope he’s okay, healthy and happy. Because that’s the gift he gave me. The gift of cycling. Health. Happiness.