Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A few thoughts on bikes

I probably got my first bike in 1976 or 1977, I don't remember exactly.  But I do remember what kind it was - a Huffy Thunder Road.

Call it good timing.  My street was filled with kids within a year or two of the same age.  One of the guys was an early adopter (who later went on to have a fairly acclaimed motocross career), but the rest of got our first bikes around the same time.

Overnight, our street expanded into a full fledged neighborhood.  Whenever we could, we would pedal over to "the field", "the ditch" or "the woods" to get on with our days.  Instantly our little world had expanded into a universe.  The freedom was intoxicating.

We where still tethered, but we just didn't know it yet.  With bikes we had access to everything we needed.  Calling a field "the field", a ditch "the ditch" and woods "the woods" suggests that as 7 year olds, it was inconceivable that there where other fields, ditches or woods anywhere else.  Looking across the neighborhood boundary might as well have been looking into a bottomless chasm - It didn't matter what was beyond.

Eventually, bikes as play things morphed into bikes as transportation.  There was junior high and then high school to get to.  Then there where after school jobs.  The bike became a tool, and eventually a less desirable tool.  Why use a hand saw when you can use a circular saw?  We all wanted our driver's licenses.

As bikes became less important to the neighborhood kids, the neighborhood grew apart.  For a time, the bikes where the glue that kept us together.   But then we all had too many choices and not enough consensus.  The only thing we had in common was that our bikes where collecting dust, replaced by beater cars for the lucky ones and constant negotiations with parents to borrow the family car for everyone else.

When I moved to Boston, my bike didn't make the trip.

They say you never forget how to ride a bike, and I'd say that's true.  But when I started riding again, it was a seriously shaky proposition.  I'd guess it was a combination of being out of practice and no longer being fearless.  However, the appeal of triathlon as a whole outweighed my initial reluctance to ride.  And 24 years later, the bike is suddenly really important again.

I rediscovered the freedom that a bike gives you.  True, I'm no longer riding over to the woods for a game of tag or to the field to play baseball.  I'm just riding to ride.  But that's the kind of freedom that I'm looking for now.

It's funny.  When I run, I'm not that particular.  Many of my go-to running routes are out and back, and I tend to run them all the time.  When I ride my bike though, I like to do loops.  And I like to change up the loops whenever I can.  A bike ride is a journey.  It doesn't matter if I'm going 10 or 50 miles.  I like to leave my street from one end and come back from the other.

When I go swimming in Corona Del Mar, I'll drive.  About every other weekend, I'll bike through.  I'm on the same streets.  But call me crazy, it feels different.  I guess it's a contextual difference.  When I drive there, I'm arriving.  When I'm biking, I'm passing through.

My mom no longer lives in the neighborhood where I grew up.  But I'm hopelessly sentimental.  So every time I visit, I drive by the old house.  The neighborhood is a lot smaller than I remember it.  Regardless, a bike traverse across the neighborhood as a 7 year old was a bona-fide journey.  And the freedom was worth the effort.

Some things change, some things don't.


KovasP said...

I push my kids to walk or bike whenever they can. We live within 2 blocks of their elementary, middle and high schools, so they will not need a car anytime soon. As they get bigger, I hope to take them on longer rides, so that they start to think of the car as a backup, not the go-to vehicle. We'll see.

Glenn Jones said...

Nice post Patrick. Is it my imagination or were our parents just much less concerned about things like kids being abducted back then?

Big Clyde said...

Nice post. I remember that riding my bike just seemed so fun and casual (this was the Schwinn Stingray years in the late 70's, before BMX became popular).

Now, with my serious business bike, built for "serious riding", I enjoy the challenge that it offers to me, but it doesn't seem as casual or fun.

Know what I mean?

Rad Runner said...

Yep it seems like everything magically shrinks when we "grow up" (even though I refuse to completely grow up!)
It was a great true post with its arriving vs. passing through, on the dirt with the bugs in your teeth.. You become a part of your surroundings.. I like...

Emz said...

I am loving your posts [especially lately]. Thank you!!

I'm with you on the "hopelessly sentimental". I can't help but drive by my old home every time I'm remotely nearby.

Loved the first bike info. Mine was a banan seat. ALL. THE . WAY.

Kelsey: the Blonde Bullet said...

I had a hot pink huffy with black lightning bolts all over it, and I practically lived on it. I quit riding after middle school, and I do remember that when I picked up riding again a few years ago, I was extremely shaky and actually very nervous! But it took only a few minutes for me to feel that child-like freedom again. It's funny how different things are when you are a kid. You went to "the ditch," I want to "the fort," which was really just an overgrown tree and a few blankets.

God I miss that fort. Good post.

valen said...

I guess I'm lucky enough that whenever I go home the neighbourhood keeps its size and the bike is THE transporation in town. but it's true that 90% of times is just ride for riding.

DRog said...

Agreed...bikes offered that freedom allowing us to rove in gangs and explore possible trouble! Loved the mountain bike explosion as I was in High School...did a few races back then, loved it.

Barbie said...

I lived on my bike as a kid. At every opportunity my brothers and I would be gone for hours riding down to the creek, behind the golf course - sometimes through the golf course. But most of the time I did it without holding onto the handle bars. Riding my bike now brings back all of the those wonderful memories and definately an awesome sense of freedom.

64 CLASSIC said...

With my parents still living on the family farm where I grew up, a couple of my old bikes are still hanging in the shed.....

I may go sit with them.

Anne said...

Loved this post...made me feel warm and fuzzy :)

Lindsay said...

ditto to everyone else - loved the reminiscing here. :) i thought of "the woods" i played in and going "ALL" the way down the street. umm, it *might* be 100 yards in real life, watch out!


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