Monday, August 1, 2016
The Hubbells’ garage is packed full of meticulously organized bikes. They hang from hooks in the ceiling to maximize potential space, just in case another bike happens to appear, as they often do. Because bikes love Wilson and Gail Hubbell.
“They seem to have come my way one way or another, and we use every bike we own,” explains Wilson as he gingerly sets a mint condition Mercian road bike down. “I bought this one in 1972.”
The perfectly hammered Japanese fenders and retro tail light make the bike look like it could be part of a museum, but Wilson’s bikes aren’t for display. When thunderstorms hit on a recent multi-day ride through Montana, the perfectly maintained fenders made the rain tolerable: “They work really well to keep mud from flying up your back.”
Wilson’s wife, Gail, surveys the garage and lets out a sigh. “He’s the collector,” she insists. “I’ve got plenty of bikes. I don’t need any more.”
“I think I’ve got enough,” Wilson agrees, though the tone of his voice and the look on Gail’s face suggest this isn’t the first time he’s made such a proclamation.
The Hubbells have both been riding bikes since childhood. The longevity of the sport is something Wilson finds unique. He joined a cycling club as a teenager, and with the exception of the three years he served in the Army, he never stopped riding.
“The guys I went to school with are not playing football anymore, they’re not playing basketball anymore, but here I am, decades later, still riding a bike. I’ve kind of built my life around biking. That wasn’t so much intentional; it’s just always been there.”
It’s been there for Gail, too.
Partially obscured by the hanging bikes is a map of the United States. Lines of blue ink carefully trace the paths of Gail’s cross-country adventures. She’s ridden through all 50 states, including participating alongside thousands of other riders in the Bikecentennial, the inaugural tour across the TransAmerica bike trail in the summer of 1976. She completed the entire route from Oregon to Virginia.
“I broke 19 spokes and went through three wheels that summer,” recalls Gail, “and I had the best quality wheels available at that time. There are a lot more options now.”
She would know. The couple’s collection of a couple dozen (the actual number is hotly debated) bicycles spans four decades and includes everything from mountain bikes to folding bikes and even a tandem. Which, Wilson says, might be their least used bike.
“You can have two people riding side-by-side all day long with no issue, but put them on a tandem,” he shakes his head. “It’s something about the chemistry. Our first date was actually on a tandem,” he laughs.
Fortunately, they overcame that initial relationship hurdle. They were married at the Santa Barbara Courthouse garden in 2003.
The Hubbells both pedaled to work throughout their careers. Now retired, they continue to ride around town on errands and enjoy taking a few big trips each year. Gail likes the self-sufficiency of carrying and pitching her own tent, but Wilson prefers hotels. “I spent 18 months in a tent in Vietnam,” he says with a smile. “I’m over camping.”
Together, Wilson and Gail have pedaled through Hawaii, Portugal, France, Italy, Australia, and Switzerland. On one of their more adventurous journeys, they rode 1,200 miles across Vietnam, revisiting the places Wilson served during his tour of duty. They have the photos and the souvenirs, and, of course, they have the bikes.
More than a collection of well-maintained mechanical parts, the Hubbells' many bikes are a testament to lives spent in motion, a scrapbook of past adventures, and a reminder of all the rides yet to come.