Sunday, March 20, 2011

Let's go for a bike ride!

What a familiar phrase.

I remember first learning to ride a bike when I was 4 or 5 years old.  It was a big bike, I think meant for an adult.  It was red with unusually wide tires, and may have been a girls style bike with no top bar.   I had seen one or two of my older sisters riding this bike, and it seemed like they had fun pedaling it around.  I am not sure why one summer day, I decided it was time to give the bike a try, but at that age, reasoning generally took a back seat to spontaneity.

We had a dirt/gravel driveway that led to a beat up street named "Rauschelbach". (Yeah really..and I am not sure if I spelled it right!)  Next to the driveway on one side was a large tree, just close enough to take note of and consider avoiding should I find myself losing control of my new found transportation.  On the other side of the driveway, closer to the street, was a ditch that ran alongside and on both sides of the street. (No sidewalks here...just a ditch with corrugated metal tubes that were like little tunnels under each driveway...this was old school)

I still remember little things about the day I decided to conquer this old bicycle.  It was warm and humid, and I think it was morning. (before noon) I could smell the thousands of Dandelions that grew where our backyard grass was supposed to be. There was a little bee of sorts, that was hovering and darting back and forth in front of me...not a honey bee, but smaller...just hovering, quickly moving left, then right.  I could hear the sounds of hundreds of Grasshoppers in the field next to our house...a kind of high pitched "humming" that fades into the background of other summer sounds...

I was nervous.  The bike was bigger than I was and probably weighed as much!  I think one or two of my sisters were there, no doubt anticipating my imminent crash.  I think they may have even held the bike on my first few attempts down the driveway, but I seem to only remember my first successful solo trip.  I was not big enough to sit on the seat, as it was way too tall, so I put a foot on the right pedal, balanced myself and took off down the driveway...wobbling, scared, and realizing halfway down the driveway that I had no idea how to stop.  I made it to the street, past the big tree on my left and somehow managed to turn right (hope no cars are coming!) and made my way along the side of the street, next to the looming ditch.  It seems just looking at the ditch drew me ever closer to it.  The more I looked at it to keep from going in, the closer to the ditch I got!!  I managed to stay on the street and avoid the I pedalled a little farther before turning around and clumsily making my way back to the driveway.  I think I put my feet down to stop, as I had not inquired, nor did I care much in the beginning, how to stop the bike.  A few rides later, and after learning to pedal backwards to activate the brakes, and I was a certified "bike rider"!  It were as if I had broken the sound barrier, or discovered was incredible and fantastic and all I wanted to do was ride that bike!

Now, riding a bike at 5 to 10 mph when you are 5 years old, is a liberating and exhilarating experience.  It was a "right of passage" to kids of my generation.  It represented "speed" and "control" and "freedom", not unlike my venture into cars some 10 years later.  It is also one of very few experiences/activities I enjoyed as a child, that I continue to enjoy as an adult. (Drinking hot cocoa...made with another)

As I got older, I enjoyed riding sisters bikes, my Mom's bike, and a nice 20 inch, green bike I later received as a gift from my parents.  I rode everywhere...  I rode with my friends "around the block", I rode to "the store" and i rode to the local elementary school to play baseball...a plastic milk jug of water hanging from one side of my handlebar (summers were hot!) and my baseball glove hanging off the other side.  When I got my first job at 13 years of age, (a local truck farm) I wasn't driven there by my Parents, I rode my bike.  I later rode my bikes to school and my "girlfriends" house.  My buddies and I would simply ride and talk about anything and everything as the road dissapeared effortlessly under our tires.  It truly was liberating...and we did not wear "bike helmets"! (can you believe it, we all lived!)

I saved my money and when I was almost 15 years old, I bought a very high quality, "ten speed racing bike".  Do I remember the model you ask?  I was 15 and had saved up almost 200.00 dollars...after working 50-60 hours a week each summer for the whopping wage of...wait for it...1.00 dollar an hour. (50% of my weekly pay was put away by my Parents for savings, so saving up 200 bucks took a while) You are damn right I remember the was a "Fuji Grand Tourer"...champagne in color....not gold...CHAMPAGNE!!   It served me well and took me everywhere until I got my first car.  It was the first major purchase of my life and as fate would have it, that bicycle was stolen on the last day of my senior year in High School, from the Varsity locker room.

                                                             1976 Fuji Gran Tourer (Champagne)

I had several other bicycles through the years, a "Schwinn Le Tour Luxe", (stolen from my apartment in Berlin, Germany) a "Kuwahara Triathlon" that replaced the Schwinn and later a "Trek 820" and "Raleigh" mountain bikes.  I rode for pleasure, sometimes competitively and sometimes as a way to keep fit.  I never noticed until recently, that I have never been without a bike and I have never stopped riding.

These days, I still ride.  In fact, In January, I started riding to and from work as a means to stay healthy.  Its only 20 minutes in and 20 minutes to get back home,  but it is 40 minutes of pretty hard pedaling/exercise that I wouldn't otherwise do.  I have a cycling computer on the bike I ride and I have used a picture of it on the right column of this blog, to post/keep track of my mileage since I started biking to work in January.  I am hoping to complete 1500 miles by years end.  We will see.

I still "fly down the hills", "jump curbs", do "wheelies" and ride with "no hands"....I feel like (and often act like) a kid when I ride.  I still love the sound my tires make on the pavement...kind of a "growl" sound that gets higher pitched as I go faster.  I like the sound of a smooth gear change...  I like the wind in my face, and hearing and seeing and smelling the neighborhoods that I ride through.

As adults we seem to "grow out of" or get bored with many of the things we loved and enjoyed as children.  Heck, sometimes we simply can't do some of the things we enjoyed as kids.  I can honestly say, I still love the feeling I get when I am riding my bike.  I hope I always do.


  1. I think I lived on my bike when I was a kid! I haven't been on one really since college but that is next on my list of things to do- get my bike legs back! My big trick was riding down my entire road, including around the corners, without any hands. Yes, I was a real trickster haha. Keep up the good work and you will make your goal easily :)

  2. good job! :)
    i haven't rode a bike in years!

  3. I still like to ride a bike...I admire your committment to ride to work each day. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. And yes, you spelled Rauschelbach right!


  4. Ah, nice to read good bike stories. All I remembrer is running over my neighbor's kid. 25 years later, and that sinking feeling never left me.