“Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live.” – Mark Twain
I still remember the moment. My extended family — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — was gathered at our house on Reid Road in Neosho, MO. It turned out to be the day that my one-month-older cousin and I would learn to ride our bikes. I can remember my dad holding the back of my bicycle as he pushed. The speed was terrifying and thrilling.
Then he let go.
I like what Bill Strickland says: “It’s appropriate that our parents give us our first bike, for it’s a metaphor of what they must do to raise us: Provide us with the tools we need to leave them.”
He had to turn loose because he couldn’t always be there in my life to keep me balanced. And later, I had to turn loose (and yes I remember the moments clearly) with the boys on their bikes. It’s the ultimate discovery of parental wisdom: how much support versus how much letting go?
My first one was a Schwinn — purchased from Western Auto on the square. There were other bikes at Otasco, but we never bought from them. We were a newspaper family. Western Auto advertised in the local paper; Otasco didn’t. It was as easy as that. (In my teenage years, I bought a baseball glove from Otasco, and was “convinced” later to take it back and go buy one from a proper advertiser.)
But the bike I remember the most — another Schwinn — is the one I purchased with money I’d earned from my newspaper route. It’s the one that I rode down to the square to deliver papers. And on it I rode all over our fair town — my cousin right by me on his. No one had to chauffeur us. We were on our own!
Lance Armstrong nails it: “A bicycle is the long-sought-after means of transportation for all of us who have runaway hearts. Our first bike is a matter of curb-jumping, puddle-splashing liberation; it’s freedom from supervision, from car pools, and from curfews. It’s a merciful release from parental reliance — one’s own way to the movies or a friend’s house. More plainly, it’s the first chance we have to choose our own direction. A bike is the first wheeled machine we ever steer solely by ourselves, and perhaps for that reason, we have intense affection for and strangely specific memories of the ones we’ve owned.”
For most of my adult life, I’ve been a runner. But with some leg muscle issues and after a knee repair surgery a few years back, I now just jog enough to get through a triathlon.
So I’m back on a bike. This time it’s a Specialized Sequoia Elite. Still just a frame and a crank, but a bit nicer than the old Schwinn. And when I go out, I still feel much of the joy I did when I was a kid. On my own. Relying on my legs. Seeing nature up close and personal. (And now — keeping an eye out for people who are texting while they drive!)
What was your favorite bike? Anything you can remember about your first one?