Thursday, June 14, 2007

Two-Wheeled Memories

My very first bicycle was a Sears Free Spirit single speed kid's bike. It was red and had a coaster brake - pedal backwards and the rear brake engaged. The frame resembled the Schwinn Stingray, with the curved seat stays that extended beyond the seat tube in an arc all the way to either side of the serpentine down tube. It was a classic design. Mine was not, however, a Stingray. It was a practical and respectable Free Spirit. Therefore, there were no high-rise handlebars, no banana seat and no sissy bar. It did come complete with a set of training wheels and was given to me by my parents on my fifth birthday - December 6, 1967.

I learned how to ride a bike that winter. It had shiny chrome fenders, white accents and a chain guard. After it rained, water would remain puddled up in one special spot across the street. There were no sidewalks or curbs on my street; the puddle was formed by a high spot on the street side and another on the house side. My training wheels would rest there while my rear wheel would hang just low enough to hit the water. I could then pedal furiously sending a rooster-tail of water skyward. The other kids on my street took turns in a game of ducking under the arc, side to side. I was on top of the world.

Soon enough, the time came to wean me away from the training wheels. My dad removed them and in short order I was precariously perched on my now two-wheeled machine. With my dad holding the bike steady behind the seat, he ran with me holding the bike up. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until he yelled, “You’re doing it!” that I realized I was riding all by myself. In an instant of shock, exhilaration and panic, I attempted my first turn, sans training wheels. It was slow and unsteady, but I managed to get the machine turned around and headed back towards my father.

When it came to stopping, well - that was a different matter altogether. At first I would ride to my dad and slow to the point of losing my balance when he would catch me and hold me up so I could dismount. However, he wasn’t always around to help me off my bike. I devised a method of slowing to a near stop and then simply falling over - except I would do it on our front lawn. Eventually I learned how to dismount anywhere and my horizons gradually expanded. The next year I entered first grade and along with my other two-wheeled friends, I rode my bike to school virtually everyday.

As time wore on, that first bicycle went through a number of metamorphoses. Ultimately, it no longer served my purpose as my rides to school and elsewhere became longer. I finally outgrew that first bike. Although it was followed by others, a five-speed “muscle-bike,” with a stick shift, a racing slick rear tire and a tiny front wheel and a Schwinn Varsity ten-speed, my last utilitarian bike was a Motobecane Mirage. Then I got my drivers license… and a car.

It would be many years before a bicycle would become a significant part of my life again. Due to a series of events, my driving privilege was temporarily suspended in 1987. I had too many tickets in a short period of time and the California DMV, in their infinite wisdom, removed my driver’s license for 90 days. I had two jobs and my future ex-wife was expected to give birth to our son during that time. I had to work and I could not risk getting caught driving without a license. Enter the bicycle.

Ironically enough, it was a gift from my dad. I don’t remember it being for any particular occasion, just an offer to help. Much had changed in bicycling technology since 1979. Greg LeMond was setting the cycling world ablaze with his 1986 victory in the Tour de France. Although perhaps not with the fanfare (or controversy) of the second American ever to win the tour, LeMond was doing it on equipment available to the masses - what I was riding was strikingly similar to what he was. Composites and space-age technology were just beginning to penetrate the sport. Thanks to the DMV, I rode seriously for a few more years.

Today I have a full-suspension Specialized mountain bike. It has a million speeds, hydraulic disc brakes and a wireless speedometer. It is beyond what anyone dreamed back in the day - either of them. It spends most of its days in the rafters in my garage. I mean to ride it far more often than I actually do. And that’s a shame. I can really only remember good times on my bike, and perhaps that’s because no matter what else is going on, riding a bike seems to take one away. It is similar to the feeling I get when I ride my Harley, but it’s still not quite the same.

I really should dust that bike off - it’s summer time.

20 comments:

Used*to*be*me said...

I miss riding. I should buy a bike. I could ride all year here in the scorching desert!

PS - Michele sends me today but I lurk around on my own too.

Jennifer said...

I wanna Harley! *sigh* Actually, at this point, I'd be content to just get a ride on one. I haven't been on a motorcycle in two years and am having serious withdrawals...I see them everywhere. My hubby doesn't ride, and he isn't big on me getting a license...oy :(

kenju said...

This post reminds me of my son, who is only a little younger than you. When we first moved to Raleigh, he was 3 1/2. The following summer, we bought him a bike with training wheels, which he could ride in the driveway of the apt. complex when we were there to watch him. He kept begging for the training wheels to be removed, and we hesitated, thinking it would take him weeks to learn to ride without them. We removed them, and told him not to ride without one of us being right beside him. Ha! I looked out the window one afternoon (holding my infant) and he was speeding like the wind through the parking lot (at age 4). Scared the pants off me!

michele said...

A bike guy? You are a bike guy? (Pause while I swoon). What a wonderful post Mike! You are a gifted writer and a wonderful ability to evoke such strong imagery.

Shh, don't tell anyone but my brand new bicycle has only one speed, unless of course I pedal faster, and it has a coaster brake. I love it, and so does my inner child.

Now, I am off to swoon some more at the thought of you being a bike guy.

Ash said...

What memories your post conjured for me! I rode for hours after school and on the weekends as a kid. As an adult I had a cannondale and did bike tours. Then my bike was stolen and I have not replaced it...*sigh* I miss that feeling! Great post!
Hello from Michele's!

Layla (aka Barbara) said...

I had that bike! Mine was a slightly earlier model and it was gold, but I remember it well. I finally graduated to a real Stingray and my little brother had to ride the gold bike.

What a great story. You definitely have appreciation for all things two-wheeled :)

Leigh said...

michele sent me to say hi

Carmi said...

This entry hit home, Mike: our daughter insisted on removing her training wheels last week, and she rode on her own for the first time. Now, she rides as if she's been on two wheels for her entire life.

Biking has been a huge part of my life. It's what I turned to when I needed to re-learn how to walk as a child. It's how I commuted to work for so many years.

Now that I work from home, I'm adjusting to a new cycling reality: I need to carve out time to hit the road. Tomorrow morning, I'll roll my Specialized Stumpjumper Comp out of the garage, and I'll think of you as I climb on and silently push off. Maybe we'll get to ride together someday, too. Now THAT would be cool.

mar said...

What a delightful post! bloggers' memory always amazes me, except for mine. I have either gone too fast and didn't stop to smell the roses or I have plain bad memory...

Will remember this post on July 17: that will day I will be watching the tour live, from the Alps, one meter (or less) away from the bikers, in a tiny town where we otherwise go to ski.
Michele sent me this morning, have a grand weekend. Riding your bike!

michelle said...

i remember learning how to brake. I would jump right off my bike, too! that is so funny! I wish it wasn't so freaking hot out here so I could ride a bike.

Janet said...

Oh, what a lovely story! My cousin and I used to ride our bikes, pretending they were horses :-)

I rode my bike all over the place, I swear it's why I have no cellulite!

I've got a Specialized, too...bought it in Japan in 1993!

kenju said...

Here I am again, Mike, via Michele! She's still swooning, I think.

Bob-kat said...

I rediscovered bike riding again about 4 years ago and I have to agree, getting on the bike really does take you away, literally and spiritually.

I should get on the bike more again!

Carmi said...

I'm back from my ride and back from Michele's. It felt wonderful. I think I'll go for another ride tomorrow. And the day after. And...

Shephard said...

Great story Mike... sounds like you'll never totally let go of the bike from this point.

Michele says hello!
~S

Sara said...

Hello, Michele sent me.

Nice Blog...

Paul said...

You really pulled on some nostalgia strings this time, Mike. Yes, get that thing down and ride on it a little bit this summer. I have a beat up old ten-speed in the basement. I prefer walking. I walked 3.1 mi on my lunch hour today.

Here from Michele's.

craziequeen said...

I do envy people who can remember their formative years in such detail.

I remember yelling, screaming and occasional moments, but nothing on this scale....
I don't remember my first bike or learning to ride. I do remember cycling to school every day as a teenager, and having two bikes stolen.

Michele sent me to say hi, Mike and I loved your story.

cq

Thumper said...

I don't remember how I learned to ride; that's a little on the sad side, I think. I remember my first bike--the one that was all mine, that I didn't have to share with my sisters--was a cast off from some kid whose parents were friends with mine. To me it was new, and beautiful. I rode the heck out of that thing, until I outgrew it.

Now I have this wonderful recumbent sitting in the garage, and I never ride. That's more sad than forgetting how I learned to ride in the first place.

Here via Michele's this time!

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Michele sent me today, my dear...You write that so wonderfully Mike---I can see the bike and those training wheels and that little puddle...And then on into the second bike...And now, this Primo Magnifico Bike! WOW! I hope writing this stirs you to take that Mountain bkis down....it sounds like there is kind of a longing for it....!