If you think about it, we start out on wheels, from being pushed around the hospital nursery in a four-wheeled cart to progressing to a stroller, a.k.a. pushchair, driven by an adult or guardian. I don’t remember any of it. I just know it happened. Pictures prove it.
My first taste of wheeled transportation under my power that I distinctly remember came as a red tricycle. My mother even tolerated me riding it around the house to a certain limit. It was fire-engine red and had matching red grips with sparkles and streamers.
It was a classic two rear-step model, so if you didn’t feel like pedalling, you could place one foot on the bottom step and push yourself along with the other foot as you held the handlebars. When seated to pedal, I was the same height as the coffee table, which didn’t work out well for me one day. I still have that scar today.
Finding your balance
I went from three to four wheels to learning to ride a two-wheeled bike with training wheels with the help of my dad in the street. I have an older sister, so it wasn’t my bike, it was hers but I didn’t care. I was desperate to ride a bigger bike and get rid of those training wheels.
The bike was a green single-speed with a coaster brake. It had monkey bars, like the ones with a massive amount of rise that came on the old Schwinn StingRays, and a matching green banana seat. Its once-white grips were sullied grey after hours of dirty hands nestled in its moulded form. It actually had space between where your fingers go to improve the grip. Probably a good idea for kids.
Once I mastered two wheels and found my balance, I rode all the time. Like most kids, I wasn’t allowed to ride in the street after dark. But my parents let me pedal in the garage after dark, which meant parking the family car outside. A small price for my two-wheeled bliss.
The floor felt so smooth under the tyres. I rode in a tight circle around the confined space of the garage to the scratchy sounds of a portable radio until it was time for dinner. I took to cycling more than my sister, so we rarely battled over who got to ride it. But things were soon to change.
My first bike
My mother has many skills (don’t all mothers?), one of them being a talented illustrator. A birthday was coming up and on the big day, I opened my card and saw myself, wind in my hair, riding a yellow Schwinn 3-speed. My mother had drawn it herself. I was still admiring the card when my dad rolled the bike in before my eyes. I was speechless.
I was now the proud owner of an adult-size bicycle. It had a mixte frame so I could get on and off easily as I grew into the size. The comfort saddle with rear springs was a matching yellow with a white-tipped nose and the S of Schwinn in white on the saddle cover to contrast the yellow. It was beautiful.
Getting onto the road
Cycling is a great family activity. My dad decided we should do it together. One day, I came home to find four 10-speed drop-bar road bikes, one for each of us, in the garage. They were Miyatas with road saddles, downtube shifters and safety brake levers just under the tops of the bars.
I took it everywhere, to school, the pool, sports practice, friends’ houses. It was the sweet taste of independence before I learned to drive. It’s a throwback to the innocence of a bygone era when kids could still do this kind of thing. I hope it is alive and well in some geographical areas as it teaches kids a lot about responsibility and safety.
Safety was a loose term. We didn’t even have helmets. But it wasn’t part of the culture then. I wouldn’t think about riding my bike today without one, and neither should you.
My dad planned a long ride from point A to point B. My sister and mother weren’t interested, so it was just dad and I. Knowing what I know now, I understand how unprepared we were. No proper clothing, sufficient water, pump or even food and a repair kit. But we rode blindly into the horizon, only to be rescued by my mother a few hours later. Thanks, mom.
The cycling bug
Undeterred after that unsuccessful long ride, I started lingering around the local bike shop. I’d stare with admiration at the shiny new bikes in the window. The owner eventually noted my regular presence and invited me in. I became a shop rat, hanging out near the mechanics, eagerly watching their skilled hands at work. I did odd jobs too, like taking out the garbage. Not so glamorous but I was proud to feel part of the team, per se.
One bike I particularly admired at the shop was an electric blue Miyata 1000. It was expensive, close to $800. That was a fortune to spend on a teenage kid. I don’t remember the drivetrain but it had foam wrapped around the handlebars for added comfort instead of standard tape. I thought it was the coolest thing.
I talked about that bike relentlessly around the house. Occasionally asking if I could get it only to receive a firm no; it was too expensive. I resigned myself to admiring it from afar. One day, my mom asked me to go to the garage to get something for her. The bike was in the garage when I opened the door. I was over the moon. I couldn’t believe it.
That is the bike that launched me into the rest of my bicycle history. There was a public park near our home with a big paved loop. Cyclists would ride there on weekends and I watched from the sidelines. That Miyata gave me the courage to jump in. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was blind with ambition.
As happens with most initiations, a few riders took me under their wing and rode with me for the few laps I managed to stay on the pack’s wheels. I was eventually dropped but it confirmed I had the bug and was in it for the long haul.
I believe my story is unique to me but is it unique? I’m sure many under the cycling umbrella have a similar tale to tell. As you meet people interested in getting into cycling, give them a hand to bring them into the fold. Someone probably did it for you, too.
As you watch the Grand Tours this season, enjoy the racing but take a moment to think about your cycling roots, your first bike memories. By helping and encouraging others, you may give them the boost they need and create their first memory, too. I can’t think of anything more rewarding than that.