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[whitespace] Danny Johnson and Shelby
Photograph by Stephen Laufer

If This Bike Could Talk

The incredible true story of one man and his Blue Star Cruiser, Shelby

By Rebecca Patt

DANNY JOHNSON cringes now to recall the most outrageous stunt he ever pulled with his cruiser: pushing it off a cliff on Highland Avenue and watching it tumble wheels-over-handlebars--and still land upright. Johnson, who is now a 30-year-old acupuncture student at Five Branches, has been cruising the path of life with his bike for so long that he can't even remember why he named it Shelby. He acquired the bike secondhand in 1983, when he was a seventh- grader at Mission Hills Junior High.

"I've never really outgrown it," he says. "It's the perfect size."

"Shelby" is a blue Star Cruiser with a sheepskin seat cover. Johnson and the bike have done some serious cruising around Santa Cruz: he's ridden it into ponds and off diving boards into pools. He has used the handlebars to give his sister a ride to school and as a place to attach a portable stereo. One time he noticed that the bike's hollow frame was filled with algae and water, years after he had last since ridden it into a pond.

During his days at the University of Oregon, he would go on night cruises on the bike three-to-four times a week through frequent rains.

"It was kind of like having your teddy bear with you, kind of a companion," he said.

Today, Johnson rides the bike to school and to work, around town and on off-road trips. He says that even though his friends are always offering to lend him their mountain bikes, he wouldn't dream of riding any other bike. He takes it on rugged trips to the top of Wilder Ranch, a feat he says draws shocked reactions from other bikers and makes his coaster brakes sizzle when he rides down through the creeks. He says Shelby is the perfect gear for getting up the hills.

"You see so much more of life and what's going on," he says of the Shelby experience. "What keeps me on the cruiser is the comfort. It's so much more relaxed."

Johnson says he hasn't done much maintenance on the bike other than changing the back tire a few times.

"It's like a tank. It doesn't come apart," he says. "I'm sure I will give it to my child and he or she will beat the heck out of it, too."

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From the October 2-9, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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