Walking down the street today, I saw a bicyclist blow through a red light while making a right turn at high speed, completely ignoring a police car that was just getting into the intersection. Crazy and stupid. However, the cops continued on their way and he got away with it. No wonder why there are so many traffic accidents. Anyway, it got me thinking about bikes. Whether motorized or pedal, there’s something cool about being on a bike. Whether it’s the wind in your face, the sense of independance and freedom, or the excitement at exploring new worlds, it makes a bike ride something special.
It starts off with your first bike, and of course, a set of training wheels. Once you master the basics, the next immediate goal is to get rid of those training wheels. All the kids, especially us boys, knew that training wheels were for babies & sissies. Being seen in public using them was like walking around in your diaper, sucking on a pacifier. Acute embarrassment for a 3 or 4 year old, as we wanted to tell the world we were BIG boys now. So after more than a few “Dad run behind us and get us started” launches, our crash rate finally reached zero and it was a quick transition to normal bikes.
Once you had a bike, then there important science experiments to perform, such as seeing how fast you could go. My brother and I had very basic cheap 1-speed bikes when we started out, probably something similar to a $10 Walmart special. Red and white, as I remember. One day, a group of neighborhood kids were hanging out and decided to do the speed test. The subdivision had a few hills, and we went up one of the shallower ones. As it came to my turn, I pushed off, pedaling as fast as I could. Then it was time to coast, as I reached warp speed.
Warp might be a good description after all, as the handlebars and front wheel started to shake violently back and forth, and it was all I could do to hang on and stay upright. Braking was out of the question, as I was frozen in the moment. Apparently I had now reached the appropriately described terminal velocity, one of nature’s tools to help cull the herd. The bike apparently had a mind of its own, and was proceeding down the hill in a straight line at that point. As I looked ahead I saw the bike was headed directly for a corner curb………… DIRECTLY…….. It was as if the corner had a bullseye on it and I was a dart headed straight to the center. I remember thinking that turning might be a good idea at that point, but getting that thought transferred to my shaking arms was easier said than done. Impact was a a few seconds later, followed by Launch, as both the bike and I went head over heels.
I think I got walloped pretty good. I remember a friend’s dad coming over to pick me up off the concrete, making sure all my body parts were intact, then walking me a few houses to home. From what I remember, the bleeding was not too bad, and I kept all my teeth. A successful mission! Even though it was pretty scary, I have to admit it was also sorta cool.
A few years later, we had ditched our kiddie bikes to ride with the big boys. Yep, 2 speed Schwinn bikes with…………..drum roll please………banana seats. I kept my bike relatively normal, sometimes adding playing cards to the spokes. I loved the sound those made. My brother spray painted his seat purple and put in green sissy bars on his seat, making it more like a chopper. He always was one for making his own way a little different. The bikes changed gears when you braked with the pedals, rather than have any gear shifter on the handlebars. A good idea in theory. However, when you were going fast, braked a little, and went to pedal hard, you’d sometimes find yourself in low gear suddenly. Your legs and the pedals would be going crazy round and round, with your feet flying off the pedals. If you were crouched up a bit, you could land hard on the seat and smash the family jewels. Not a good feeling.
It was about the same time that “popping a wheelie” became popular as well. There were some kids who were masters of this skill, and could ride 50 or 100 feet with a wheelie. Then there were the rest of us. My wheelie attempts were pitiful, as I yanked back on the handlebars only to see the front tire rise up an inch or two off of the ground. Catcalls from the peanut gallery only added to my embarrassment. So then, determined to save face, I’d try another time with as much force as I could. No inch or two this time. No, this time the front wheel rose high up in the sky, and I celebrated my glory for a split second. In that moment, I was a giant among pygmies, an eight year old Evil Knievel. Alas, the glory was short lived, as I then fell on my butt behind the bike, with the bike crashing over me a few seconds later. Humiliation had made a quick visit again…..On the positive side, this provided endless amusement to the other kids watching as they laughed their asses off.