Irene Waters’ “Times Past” prompt challenge topic for this month is: Bicycles.
I am a baby boomer and grew up in the suburbs of New York and New Jersey, USA
I remember always having some type of 2 or 3 wheeled transportation to call my own when I was a kid.
I started off on a tricycle and stepped up to a “big girl” bike around the age of 5 or 6. Pink, with coaster brakes and a loud horn, this bike was my ticket to freedom – once I fully learned how to stop…. My most vivid bicycle memory is the day my father removed my training wheels. I started pedaling in front of our house – at first wobbly – but with my father’s hand steadying the back I managed to remain upright. I picked up speed as I – by myself!- headed toward the end of the street. After flying by 2 or 3 houses I realized I had absolutely no idea how to slow down and stop. Either nobody told me it was the same as with the training wheels or I simply forgot. Brain cramp. So what did I do? I clearly remember the heart thudding moment-of-panic as I made a split second decision (perhaps my first and that’s why I remember it so well). I steered into the curb and fell over onto the asphalt. Nothing broken. Just a few bumps, scrapes and bruises. Lesson learned.
Despite my early braking mishap, I absolutely loved riding a bike and rode with no fear. When I outgrew (or wore out) the pink one, I got a bigger white bike in the 5th grade. Coaster brakes again. In those days, still no helmet. Despite the fact that my father kept accidentally bumping his car into my “new white bike” (as noted in my diary) it lasted quite a few years. The garage was small for a car plus multiple bikes. There were 4 kids by then.
When I was 10 and 11, I often rode to the small grocery store/strip mall that was 6+ blocks away. Errands for my mother or to get bubble gum and comics for myself. Or sometimes to sample all the perfume spray testers at the drug store with my girlfriend Kathleen. It was mostly downhill from my house. I’d start at our backyard (which bordered another backyard) and take off bumping over grass, tree roots, gravel and into the neighbor’s yard in back. I’d jump the bike over their curb and into the street, turning right. Zooming past about 4 houses, I turned left and then…the best part – a hill straight down bisecting at least 4 streets on the way to the main road and my destination…the Acme! The drug store! My hands flung out to the side. Feet off the pedals. The wind. Nothing like it before or since. Sometimes I’d shut my eyes for a second or two. Riding back home…uphill…was another story altogether; but totally worth it.
Bike riding was crucial to my quest for exploring the vast suburban wilderness. The many blocks to the candy store, the woods at the end of the street, my friend Kathleen’s house two blocks away. My parents didn’t and couldn’t track me. “Be home by….” was all the direction I got. Priceless freedom.
When I neared the end of high school, I saved up and bought a “folding” bike which I brought to my summer job at a camp in NH. It saved space during travel and was fairly simple to store. I also brought it with me to college where I rode it from one end of campus to the other. Since my first car took center stage after college graduation, I sold my folding bike and moved on.
As an adult – in my late 30’s or early 40’s – I owned a bike again. I wore a helmet. I rode it around the rural neighborhood street where we were raising our kids. Around and around. Kind of boring. I was no longer as fearless. And what’s with the hand brakes??