Darrell Yarborough was about 6 when he got his first bicycle: a red, 20-inch Western Flyer.
"When the Schwinn Stingray was introduced, I tried to convert the Western Flyer into a Stingray-esque bike; [however, it] didn't quite achieve the coolness of a real Stingray," Yarborough said of his bicycle legacy that dates back to the late 1950s.
"I remember that I had a very hard time learning [how] to ride. Since I grew up in the country, we didn't have sidewalks and the road was too dangerous to ride on, so it was grass, gravel or dirt."
Now 60, openly gay and a software quality assurance analyst who lives in suburban Arlington Heights, Yarborough still savors his time around all aspects and elements of the two-wheel riding tradition.
"When I came out of the Army in 1971, my uncle gave me a job at The Western Auto Store [that] he ran in my hometown: Lexington, N.C.," Yarborough said. "In addition to selling car tires and batteries, they sold a good number of bicycles. [There] was a bike boom [in] the early 1970s, and Raleigh [bicycles] were being imported from England in large numbers. It was there that I bought my first Raleigh, a sports [style] in the color called coffee. Though I don't have that same bike today, I have one like it."
Fittingly, it's called, Mr. Bean.
"A few years ago, I started thinking about what I might do in my retirement. My initial idea was to build and offer support for personal computers, [but] I got put off [on] the idea because nobody I know wants to spend any money on their own PC or they can do it themselves," Yarborough said. "After I bought my first vintage Raleigh, I decided I needed to learn to build bicycle wheels. I took a class from Christopher Wallace and since then I've built about a dozen wheel-sets. I have my first commission for a set that will go on a single-speed/fixed gear this [February]. Working on mechanical things satisfies my need to tinker. Working with computers, which I've done most of my working life, just doesn't give me the same satisfaction.
"My long term plan is to take a course at United Bicycle Institute in Portland, Ore., within the next couple of years. While I'm out there, I also want to take another wheel-building course from another teacher, just so I have the perspective of another wheel-builder. Restoring vintage bikes is one thing, but my knowledge of modern bikes is sadly lacking. That's why I want to go to a bike-repair school. If I only get two or three commissions for really nice bike builds during my retirement, I think that will be enough to satisfy me. It takes a long time for people to recognize your work because there are so many excellent builders out there."
So what is the appeal of bicycle riding?
"Just getting out by myself or with friends in a quiet place and enjoying the ride, be it 10 miles to have lunch or just to the nearest Starbucks," he said.
Yarborough said that when he retires in a few years, he wants to work freelance as a bike wrench and wheel-builder: "My hope is that there is enough vintage bicycle work in the Chicago area to market myself as the go-to guy for that sort of thing, especially English and French bikes of the 1970s."
Yarborough's vintage bicycle world truly comes to life on Sunday, June 10, during The Manor & Meadow Tour that starts at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook. The ride will take in paths and roads around Fullersburg Woods, Graue Mill and a stop at York Tavern to raise a pint or two, organizers said.
The ride will last about three hours, and the event also will include a raffle drawing for an Ace of Clubs bike. All proceeds from ticket sales will go to Chicago's Working Bikes Cooperative. (According to its website, the cooperative "diverts bicycles from the waste stream in Chicago by repairing them for sale and charity.")
"The Manor & Meadow Tour sprang from an idea I had for a ride from Oak Brook to Geneva," Yarborough said. "Several of us did the ride, but decided that the leg from Oak Brook to The Prairie Path was too disjointed to work for a large group ride. I was so taken with the house, Mayslake Hall, that I had to figure out a way to make it the centerpiece for a ride."
As for the raffle drawing, Yarborough said, "One of the members of British Bicycles Chicago volunteers for Working Bikes Cooperative. The idea for building Ace of Clubs was twofold. First, it will raise money for Working Bikes and second, it will help me get my name out to people as a serious wheel-builder and bicycle restorer."
When asked about his favorite bicycling story, Yarborough said it's simple: riding from his home to downtown Arlington Heights through some quiet, residential streets. Then, he'll have lunch or visit Starbucks, then off to some local shops and time with his friend, Peter Barson.