Friday, April 23, 2021

Royal Enfield owner goes in pursuit of patina

Bicycle handlebars are rusty.
A fine example of "patina" is seen on the rusty handlebars of this bicycle.

"A surface appearance of something grown beautiful especially with age or use."

That's one of the Merriam-Webster definitions of the word "patina." There are other meanings, including a green discoloration that grows on bronze.

I have in mind the meaning that refers to age and beauty.

It appeals to me, perhaps because I personally am growing old without becoming personally more beautiful.

Rusty handlebars and brake lever.
A closer look at the surface rust, which does not affect function.

I often say that my 1999 Royal Enfield Bullet "lives in the real world." It has earned its blemishes in the course of real service, rain or shine. It has never been abused (at least not deliberately) but it has deliberately never been coddled.

Despite its honest living, my Royal Enfield is growing older without gathering what I would call the beauty of patina.

It always has been thus, with any vehicle I own. My stuff seems to get old, rusty, musty and rotten without every passing through a "patina" stage.

It's so unfair!

It may run in the family. One of my father's favorite stories was about his days as a young man working in a machine shop. His fingerprints would show up etched into the metal he was working. It was like a reverse magic touch.

"Another guy told me it was all the Coca-Cola I was drinking. I stopped that, and the fingerprints went away," my dad would say.

Photo of Peugeot bicycle.
Not a bad looking bicycle, but obviously aged and proud of it.

I'm skeptical. I don't drink much Coca-Cola, but most cars I've owned have suffered the ravages of rust. 

They acquired not the light sheen of patina that could be sanded off, but ugly, aggressive rust that came from the inside and turned metal into a jagged, crumbling crust that left real holes when touched.

I didn't help my cause by buying, early in life, not one but two Chevrolet Vegas. Famous rust buckets, they came without inner fender linings.

I could reach into a wheel well and feel the inside of the fenders turning into delicate, flacking rust. Before long, the top of the fenders were being held together, I am convinced, by their exterior paint finish.

My other U.S. cars seemed to rust at every seam. The "rain gutters" on my 1980 Pontiac rusted out, and began neatly funneling rain water into the interior of the car.

My brother, ex-military, simply advised me to forget washing and waxing my car, and "just paint it." He wasn't referring to touch-up paint. He meant paint, and the more the better.

It works for him, but he lives in sunny and dry Southern California. I live in hot and humid Florida.

Eventually I started buying Japanese cars. They're somehow immune to my touch. They largely don't rust, but they don't develop patina either.

Patina is in the eye of the beholder.

It just so happens that one vehicle in my fleet has developed what I consider a nice patina, although it might look horrible to someone else.

A Peugeot bicycle came my way that shows a surprising degree of rust on the handlebars. The bicycle isn't old and in fact is in decent condition otherwise (although the tires are rotted).

Several places where "France" appears on bike.
"Made in France" appears in many places on bike.

It's not a terribly old bicycle. Probably it's from the 1980s. It must have been made during a period in France when national pride extended to exports. "Made in France" appears on the bike seemingly everywhere the words will fit.

The bicycle will need some work to get it back on the road but I will never address the rust on the handlebars. It's neat, it's uniform and it doesn't endanger the strength of the bars.

It's patina; virtually the only example of it in my life. I love it.

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