I admit it. Things have been a little dark around the Home these last couple of weeks. There's times old Chance throws the dice and they don't come down in your favor. Sometimes more, sometimes less but I've been on a real crummy roll lately. That's the way of things and I know sooner or later, I'll have new cogs on the Trek, the rain will quit, the lawn will miraculously mow itself (well...maybe not), I'll finally get a Century this spring and all will be well once again. It may not be today but it will.
In the meantime, here's a tale or two to cheer you and me both I hope. Stories of bikes long trashed and kids long grown. I spend a lot of time with bicycles these days and it all had to start somewhere. Well...
Sometime that seems like about a century ago, I got on a bike by myself for the first time. There's some really dim recollections of being pushed around the yard until I got the balance but actually being on one is the first bike-related thing I remember clearly. I think it might have been my sister's blue step-through but I can't be sure. It's likely it was though because since it didn't have a top tube, my sawed off legs could reach the pedals.
This was the same bike on which I'd skinned my left foot with the chain-stay and rear wheel. Sis and I were headed up the road with me on the fender as we had a zillion times before. I might have been five and unlike more recent times, riding the fender was a long accepted way to get around when you didn't want to hoof it. The pinging of my sneaker toe on the spokes was fascinating until one reached out, grabbed my Red Ball Jet and sucked it right in the wheel all the way to my ankle. The sock and skin peeled off until it jammed the wheel solid and we slid to a crash by the road. Screaming ensued and after big sister managed to pry my leg out of the frame, my long-suffering mother hauled me off to the dreaded pediatrician for mending.
I should mention that this wasn't an easy task for her. I'd long before noticed that the doctor's office was situated in a low, cold looking building directly in front of a cemetery. At some point during an annual visit, I'd convinced myself that this was where he buried his mistakes. Every checkup and booster shot was traumatic. Not only because of the locale but because the old guy wasn't really of the best disposition to be a children's physician. I could be wrong but I remember him as really, really old, lacking in patience, unfriendly and about as far from Mr. Green Jeans as you could get. His hypos all looked like they were four feet long and he kept them in plain sight like he was getting ready for the inquisition. He probably was a wonderful doctor but when you're five, he might as well have been something I'd seen on 'Monster Movie Matinee' last Saturday. He's probably laughing somewhere right now but back then, he terrified me.
This was the man who would patch my skinless ankle. I wondered if he'd just take it off at the shin to make it easier. I remember that he shook his head when he saw the damage and brought in reinforcement nurses to control the flailing youngster on his table. I saw tweezers and gauze but not much else. After an interval of shrieking, I emerged intact...limping pathetically but whole. After the performance in the office, my Mom said I wasn't going to ride a bike again until I was 20. Little did she know. In short order, the bandages gave way to a scar I still have and as it would so many times, the road called again.
We always had a collection of used and used-up bikes in the garage back then. Cast-offs from my older sibs who had pretty much beaten them to within an inch of their mechanical lives. Flat tires and very un-true wheels were the norm. Brakes were coasters if they worked at all. I vaguely remember a red one with a fake gas tank on it. Somehow, we figured out how to get a wheel off with a 12 inch crescent wrench and fix perforated tubes with the dollar patch kits from the store down the road. The wheels just had to wobble though because the thought of truing them up never occurred to any of us. Over time, assorted bikes came and went. Some got parted out, some got fixed, all got destroyed. We tinkered endlessly in that old, cold garage among the lawn mowers and stray hubcaps. Nothing was ever put together the way it was supposed to be but we rode our creations to oblivion because it was all we had.
We built, rebuilt and then built again. I know I put a banana seat and ape hanger handlebars from a Spyder bike on a 26" steel dinosaur and thought I'd reached Nirvana. A four foot sissy-bar and some black house paint made that baby one mean looking ride to a 6th grader.
Then there was another little green 20" Stingray with 5 speeds and chrome fenders. I scrounged up two hunks of electrical conduit, sawed them to length, beat the ends flat with a hammer, pounded them over the forks of that 'ray and had myself a chopper. It was as long as my Dad's Country Squire but man was it cool. I rode that thing until it disintegrated. As long as you didn't lean back too much, you could almost actually steer it. Shift your weight a little too far astern and the front wheel would just lift off the road all by itself and you were suddenly piloting a funny looking unicycle. Treacherous just doesn't describe it. I think I was riding that one when I over-achieved going downhill, failed to make a turn at the bottom and slid across a gravel-studded intersection on my shirtless chest after the bike and I parted company. That little mishap removed most of my ventral hide and both nipples. My kid brother who was with me never even tried the turn and battering-rammed across a ditch and through a barbed-wire fence before knocking himself cold in a cow pasture. Our long-suffering mother picked the stones out of my lacerated torso, patched up my brother, doused me with peroxide and cut up an old bed sheet to make a bandage big enough for my whole front. You'd think I'd learn...
We kept putting the stray pieces together long after they should have been scrap and had a ball with it. The garage was always full of tinkering kids and broken parts. We fixed and fiddled, found out about stripped threads and rounded-off clamp nuts and tried every day to make something out of not much. Somewhere along the line, we learned that if you loosened the nuts on the front axle of a certain bike; the one belonging to the big kid down the road who loved to terrorize us, vengeance for all his transgressions was ours to be had. He was bigger than we were but still an easy mark. A couple of dare-ya's was all it took to con him into doing a wheelie to impress the little kids. Running for our lives was worth the fun of watching his front wheel come off in mid-air and seeing the look on his face as his forks stabbed into the blacktop and launched him over the bars. The best part was that he fell for it twice. He was almost too easy though...I was able to talk him into letting me shoot him in the butt-cheek with a BB pistol once because I told him it wasn't a pump-up gun and so couldn't really hurt a tough-guy like him that much. I lied.
As we got older, the bikes got more and more worn and weary. We discovered that jumping over ramps in the lawn at high speeds was not conducive to long bike-life. Nor was bailing off and allowing the bikes to ram each other head-on. Entertaining but not very good for the equipment. The wrecks got harder and harder to reconstruct but the pack of kids roaming the neighborhood usually managed to wire enough together to get to the next ball game or swimming expedition. I don't ever remember anyone having an actual new bike but maybe they did. It never mattered much anyway.
Eventually, along came motorcycles and with them, another saga of injury, expense, property damage and great times. I put what remained of the bicycles up on the garage wall and forgot about them. There's a world of stories from the motorcycle years but those will have to wait for another day. Let's just say that my big brother inspired me to burn fossil fuel and from there on out, leg bikes were a thing of the past...at least until the present.
Times have come back around and now my big Harley sits quite often while the pedal bike hits the road. I wonder if they argue about who's going out next when I'm not listening.
At least now I don't have to put parts together out of bushel baskets to ride a bike but sometimes I'll still get a flash from that old garage on the corner. I smile when I remember the kid next door getting clothes-lined on the dog-run cable in my back yard. It wasn't then but it's funny now thinking about pedaling like an egg-beater to get home before a summer thunder shower. I know how excited I was when Mom first let me ride out of her sight up the back road and over the hill. I still get that same feeling of 'something new' when I venture further from home than I ever have and wonder how I'll make it back. I've been here before.
So I'm waiting for the clouds to lift and the rain to stop so I can go out and do it all again. I think I'll pass on the crashes and battle-scars though. I'm a little older and the abrasions take longer to knit these days. I might take another shot at that turn at the bottom of the hill though...I won't let it get me again.