Do you remember your first bike? Mine was a Schwinn, nearly full-size. (No little bikes for the first three of us children. I’m not sure those pint-sized bikes were even available in the 1960’s.) I still remember the day: my seventh birthday. My mom asked me to go get the milk from the front porch. (Our reliable Roloff Dairy Milkman delivered eight gallons of milk, two pounds of butter, and a quart of cream each week.) I reluctantly left my cereal bowl, trudged slowly through the old house, and tugged open our stubborn front door. I stepped towards the milk crate, and there she was: a beautiful blue bike, complete with a bell, basket, and handle-bar streamers. My mom and dad stood behind me, smiling in the doorway. I was so surprised, stunned, SPEECHLESS.
I had entered the world of a “big kid.” I thought it would be seamless, but it took weeks and several serious crashes–which I survived with minor scrapes and teeth intact–for me to get the balance right, to smoothly pedal, to brake without tipping over. It became a nightly ritual in the grassy front yard: my dad clomping along in his work boots, holding my bike seat with his right hand, steadying my handlebars with his left. Dad ran along again and again, coaching and inspiring me—wobbly and terrified—until I finally broke free of the support and fear, bounced down the hill, and pedaled up the road.
Once my brothers Scott and Steve received and mastered their own bikes, we spent hours riding up and down the street. We had to stay within sight of the house, which meant we could travel to my grandmother’s driveway to the west, and to the east, we could journey about a quarter mile to a culvert where the gravel road began.
Oh, the joy and the freedom of bike riding–pedaling hard, then coasting, then pedaling hard again. As soon as our breakfast was finished, we lifted our abandoned bikes from the grass (where they had been slumbering since the night before) and began cruising. It seems like those childhood days were perfect: the robin-egg sky, the fluffy cotton-clouds, the cool breeze beneath the roadside trees. And the anticipation of filling my Dixie Cup again and again with icy red Kool-Aid, our generation’s childhood classic. Eventually, with our mother’s permission, we could pedal around the country block, go visit our cousins and neighbors, or travel several miles to buy ice-cold pop at Keeney’s, the closest mom-and-pop store.
We gradually “souped up” our bikes–buying glittery banana seats and flags from the selection in Gambles–and even convinced our parents to allow us to ride in the summer parade. Dad tossed our bikes in the bed of the pick-up where we rode to town, decorated our bikes with red-white-and-blue streamers, and joined the group of town kids in the slow processional down Main Street.
Biking was fantastic. It was freeing. It was one of the best parts of our childhood summers.
Let’s brush off the bikes and pedal hard, loosening the ache in our knees. Let’s cruise the village, rallying to the convenience store for a frosty Orange Crush. Let’s leave our adult responsibilities at home, feeling once again the freedom and joy of summer.
(I confess, I have never adjusted to wearing a bike helmet, introduced and encouraged during our adulthood. I know I should, and I know it is important. But I just love cruising down a hill with the wind ruffling my hair, not feeling the sweat trickling beneath a helmet. I did wear one when we were raising our children, and I’m sure if I ever bike with our grandchildren, they will insist I wear one. And, of course I will oblige.)
It’s a Fine Life