Monday, March 9, 2015

Early Cycling Memories

Training Wheels

My earliest memory of "riding" anything was a tractor, which was more like a tricycle without pedals, see below. Maybe I was two or three years old. It was an easy way to move around. Honestly, my memories are overshadowed by years of seeing 35mm slides. For the feeling of speed, it took a few years and my first bicycle. The only memory I have of my first bike is the day my dad took off my training wheels. I was about five years old. I can't recall what the bike looked like, but I believe it was red. We couldn't afford a Schwinn but it probably looked like the classic 50's bike. We started in the shade of the backyard where my dad took off the training wheels.

Just like every other kid that ever lived, my dad held the seat and one side of the handlebar and ran with me to get going. He let go of the bar, gave one last shove on the seat and I was riding! Half thrilled and half panicked, I pedaled fast to stay upright. I crossed the driveway and headed straight across the green grass of the front lawn. Our lawn was new, perhaps 25 yards long and 10 yards wide - pretty big. Towards the other end of the yard, dad had planted some sort of fruit tree. It was barely four feet tall and just a twig.

You would think that an object barely one inch wide could be avoided in such a big yard.

I still live with the guilt of killing that young tree.

3-Speed Stingray

By my pre-teen years, I had outgrown the first bike. I wanted a Schwinn Sting-Ray - or at least something that looked like one. The brand name wasn't an issue, just the style. Dad found a nice, used bike for me and it was so cool. It had the banana seat, a 3-speed shifter on the top tube (or whatever it was called back then) and chopper handle bars. It had a chrome chain guard and a rear slick. Nevermind that a slick made no sense on the gravel driveway we rode on.

One of many Schwinn Sting-Ray clones 
Eventually, my older brother and I ventured past the end of the driveway. We lived out in the country, so nothing was close. "Town" was two miles away. I recall a couple times riding with my brother to the drug store where our mom worked. It seemed like it took hours. Through the magic of the internet, I can see that it was four miles. It was a lot longer back then!

Banana seats and big chopper handle bars were not conducive to "long" bike rides like two or four miles. I distinctly remember leaning forward and riding with my hands on the flat part at the base of the handle bars. That's when I started angling a 10-speed.


I admire my parent's patience and generosity because it seems now that I wanted a new bike every other year. But reaching up for a 10-speed, well, several things had changed. First, and most challenging was that dad wasn't going to buy it for me - I had to save my own money. Second, and at odds with the first, I really wanted a brand new bike. One thing that hadn't changes was that I wasn't very big - certainly not big enough for an adult-sized bike with 27" tires. The solution I found was a bright orange 24" bike on the floor at J.C.Penney.
Not my photo, but probably the same as mine
Remember passbook savings at the bank? My precious little passbook finally accumulated enough "allowance" money to buy that bike. Wow! I hadn't yet heard of Campagnolo, but certainly this bike did not have anything exotic. Penney's was a step below Sears. The bike probably had fenders. It had the brake handle extensions so you could brake while your hands were on the flat, central part of the bars. Right next to the stem were the friction shift levers (not on the down-tube like more exotic bikes of the day). Flat pedals; no toe straps - what were they? I'm not sure if I had a helmet. If I did, it was dorky. But it completed the look with my white T-shirt and cut-off jeans and calf-length socks with maroon and gold stripes. I was living the dream!

I don't remember what happened to that bike. Just as quickly, my brother and I moved into go-karts and then to muscle cars with our dad being a willing enabler.

No comments:

Post a Comment