The First Ride

“You fell down a lot”

This was my father’s response delivered in his typical matter of fact style when I asked him about the day he taught me to ride a bike. Eight years old is the official bicycle bearing birthday in our family. The second of four boys, I looked forward to this birthday for two years with much anticipation. I don’t remember if there was a party, not the cake either…

I remember this:

 Schwinn Racer 1970

A shiny green single speed Schwinn Racer.

I loved this bike and it drove my younger brother crazy. I want to remember that I shared this treasure of mine but as an adult I am keenly aware of my reluctance to share the things I covet. He would have to wait another whole year before he would enjoy this new freedom, this feeling of flight, this joy. This bike was mine.

The Racer was a bit oversized to allow for room to grow and bolted to the rear axle were training wheels. I remember that riding a bike with training wheels was an extremely awkward experience. The teeter-totter motion as you attempted a straight line and the tendency of the bike to lean away in the corners to the tipping point, never felt secure. Regardless of their namesake, training wheels do not help you learn how to ride a bike. You are forced to steer with the handlebars by turning them in the direction you want to go. Anyone familiar with the term counter steer knows the fallacy of this logic. These infernal contraptions had to go.

Da-ad, “when are you going to teach me how to ride” became my mantra.

A sunny, summer, Saturday morning started with such great expectations. My father steadied the Racer while I struggled to balance. My toes barely touched the pedals. He pushed, ran along side, released..  I fell. My father, being a patient man, spent the better part of the morning pushing me and watching me fall, coaxing me back on only to see it play out in similar fashion over and over again. My courage and will were being tested like nothing I had done before. Each time I mounted the bicycle I knew a crash was eminent.

My patience exhausted, I went head first into a childlike rage. My father, however unamused, remained steadfast.

“Let me try”, my younger brother asked as he picks up the bike and rides off like he has been riding for his entire life. My father mentions it may be time to give my bike to my brother as he was clearly willing and capable. Sibling rivalry, whether nature or nurtured, is a powerful motivator.

My father steadies the bike as I mount it bravely. My heart was full of fear; my head full of fight. One push and I pedaled into the oblivion of a consequence of my own making.

Our subdivision’s roadway was separated in the middle by a grass strip and lined with small maple trees. There is a break every 200 yards to allow vehicles access to the returning lane on the other side. Within thirty feet of my start was a turn around and the next break was down the road, out of sight. I changed my strategy and passed the first turn, then focused on going straight, giving me another 200 yards to build the courage necessary to attempt a turn. When I reached the end I realized I need only turn to the left 90 degrees heading towards a cul-du-sac. Of course, I began the turn by using the handle bars. Elegant it was not, but I succeeded in holding it together. Phew! After barely recovering from that turn, I pedaled my way towards the cul-du-sac with a huge radius. I turned with the handle bars again and again it was shaky. Ever so slowly I allowed my body to lean into the turn and as I did, the wobble, the shakiness was replaced by a smooth, comfortable turn.

Hall-e-lu-iah!

Taking a wide angle, I leaned nicely into the right 90 degree turn to bring me home and  pedaled like like Cavendish towards a line. I returned home confident with my new found skill and thrilled in knowing true joy. Sadly, I don’t recall my father’s reaction as I was consumed by my own feelings.

“You fell a lot”.

“Yeah… I sure did”, I replied as the expression skipped along my lifelong mistakes like a flat stone on the surface of a lake.

“Thanks Dad”

“Sure Son”

4 thoughts on “The First Ride

  1. Kurt, thanks for continuing to share your wonderful stories of cycling. I enjoy reading each one even if I don’t always post. When I saw “You fell a lot.” I could almost hear him saying it.

    I remember my first bicycle, blue/white(not sure what brand) with solid rubber tires and training wheels. Spring of 1968, we lived on an unpaved street-it was a private road at the time. I didn’t have my training wheels for very long, my dad wanted me to learn how to ride without them. I was seven years old and just wanted to please him so I learned quickly that day…at least how to ride in a straight line. It took me a few days to get the hang of turning around on our narrow street…mostly I would try make turns in neighbors parking areas.

    I remember the first time I bicycled to N Stonington from Jewett City too! .

  2. I don’t recall the very first ride or even being taught how to ride but I clearly recall the Spring of 1982 (age 21) when I discovered that my bike was more than a transportation option. That connection is still deep and I recall over the years that
    I have made significant decisions while pedaling. These include, but are not limited to, proposing to my wife in 1993 and committing to go back to college in 1985. My life before the bike was messy, risky, exhausting and fruitless. Each of these features went away as the miles added up that Spring & Summer. I had not challenged myself to exceed anything until I innocently pointed a bike up Mt Hamilton http://mthamilton.ucolick.org/ and finished several centuries. As recent as 3 hours ago my bike carries me through the good and the bad and I truly found myself in the saddle. It’s my retreat and my workshop.

    On the subject of Schwinn I wandered all over the place when I was 8 on a Stingray, as a teen I delivered newspapers on a Typhoon, and I got to High School and back on a Varsity. The first real bike in 1983 was a TREK 400, then a 1985 Bontrager, and now my Soulcraft. Mountain bikes are also there from ’87 to present and my Gary Fischer commuter gets me to work and back

    • “my retreat and my workshop”…powerful.

      The Stingray, yes! AKA Banana Seat bike. It seemed everyone had one at some point. We went through a phase of welding forks to fork ends transforming them into choppers.

      I was a paperboy as well. Definitely a character building experience-“Niether snow nor rain nor gloom of night…”

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