Last month, Mary, over at Mary Melange, challenged a group of us to write about cycling during June. In trying to match her pace, I began with a story about my short stint on two powered wheels. I spent less than three years on a motorcycle. On the other hand, I have been riding a bicycle for almost 60 years, and I’ve been riding one particular bike for almost 40. Oh, I almost forgot, in retaliation for making her write about trains, Mary requested a poem. Let’s get that out of the way:
Coast to coast to coast
Thirty eight years and counting
Sturdy two-wheeled friend
My first bike was a green hand-me-down consumer-quality kid’s bike. My brother and my dad taught me how to ride on two wheels by starting me down the hill that was our yard. They urged me to figure out the Coaster brakes, or aim for the fence. Both better options than running into the creek that ran along the back of our property.
I wrote about this bike before, but I like the story. I tore up the sidewalks around our house on that bike until one very bad day. I ran into a telephone poll and split the fork wide open. Ball bearings littered the street and I was devastated.
It got worse.
When my dad came home from work the next day, he said “I stopped by Uncle Al’s and picked up a bike for you today” – that was bad news! Al’s kids were both girls. Sure enough it was a 24” girl’s bike and it was pink. Not just pink, the sickly kind of pink with white accents that screamed “Barbie rides a bike just like this!”
My father wasn’t going to let me get beat up for riding a pink girl’s bike. He welded a crossbar in place and he painted the entire contraption black. I rode that bike for several months, but for Christmas, my parents gave me a 26” three-speed English Racer. The bike was too big for me, but it was the last bike they were buying.
“You’ll grow into it.”
The first summer on that bike required starting and stopping near a step, or a curb, or a log, or choosing one side to which I would fall slightly before awkwardly stumbling off the bike. I grew into that bike, and I rode it until I graduated from college.
After starting my first job, I was ready to buy my own bike. I began a lengthy research project, visiting stores, taking test rides and asking friends (no Internet in 1978). The leading contenders were Motorbecan and Fuji. I settled on a Fuji Grand Tourer because it was available in a 27” size, which fit me perfectly.
As mentioned in the poem, I moved this bike from Queens, New York to Seattle, Washington and back to Hartford, Connecticut.
When our daughter was born, I outfitted this bike with a baby seat. I rode around town, with Faith on the back saying “go faster daddy.” Going downhill, “go faster daddy” and I would ease off the brake. Going uphill, “go faster daddy” and I pedaled harder.
When Faith got her own set of two wheels, we started riding the Windsor Locks Canal Path together. The path was in a miserable state of repair, and I parked my touring bike, with its 1 1/8” 90 PSI tires for a cheap mountain bike from Sears. For the next 10-12 years, I still rode the Fuji around town, but it was starting to show its age. As we started preparing to ride in the New York Five Borough Bike Tour, I looked into getting a new bike. The Fuji had cost $700 in 1978 – I dreaded the thought of what it would cost to replace it in 2000.
To my surprise, “Mike the Bike,” owner of Bloomfield Bike suggested I bring the Fuji in and let him look at it. “That’s a great bike, and I can still get all the parts. So unless you really want to spend a lot of money on a new bike, I’d keep the Fuji.”
Mike’s staff cleaned, adjusted, tweaked, replaced and repaired everything on that bike for under $200. A few months later, we returned to the city where I bought it and it carried me over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.
I’m still riding the bike, but neck and shoulder injuries have made riding painful. My physical therapist, a man in his 20s, said: “I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone of your advanced age from getting exercise, but riding that bike is probably the worst thing you can do.” I think it’s time to visit Mike again to see about converting it into a more upright ride.