Bicycles I have known and loved. Part 1

Before I begin my rant about the benefits and wonders of my new eBike, my mind fills with the memories of growing up NOT riding a bike. So allow me the indulgence and cut me some slack as I roam the corners of my mind and reminisce about how bicycles affected my youth.

For those who don’t know me, and for those who do, but don’t know about my youth, be it known that I grew up in the 60s and became a thinking being in the 70s. I was the youngest of eight siblings, spanning 11 years. We grew up on a farm in Montana. We were irrigated river valley farmers, not the ranchers that lived in the hills. Our farm was located a mile from town, on a busy paved highway, the main road north out of town. Our house was set back from the highway about 75 yards, a short gravel driveway led to a larger dirt and gravel farmyard.

These facts are important because they shape the story about bicycles I am about to tell.

Growing up, no one in our family owned a bicycle, except me. My seven siblings graduated from walking to driving, seemingly overnight. We all began driving farm vehicles at an early age, like 10 or 11. As soon as our feet could reach the clutch and the gas pedals. That’s the way the world worked in the 50s and 60s when my siblings grew up.

But I, as the youngest, lived under different rules. I didn’t have just two parents, but a plethora of brothers and sisters who coddled and shepherded me throughout my youth. I had a real, live, pony, but wanted a Wonder Horse (one of those plastic horses on springs), like the one Tina Powers–a childhood friend–had. So what did I get for my birthday? A Wonder Horse, of course.

The Wonder Horse sated my transportation needs for a year, maybe. Then I wanted a bicycle, like my friends who lived in town. When I was about seven, my dad bought a used bike from Bud Brown, one of his best friends who was the local Rambler, used car and wheeler-dealer. The pedal was broken off, and they were welding it together. As Daddy and Bud were fixing the bike for me, I tried out some humor. I said to Bud, “Are all the things you sell broken?” I meant it kiddingly, but he just looked at me (I imagined with a hurt look in his eyes), and I felt really bad. This may be why I didn’t grow up to be a comedienne.

My siblings took me out on the lawn to learn how to ride the bike. One held me and pushed me along, a couple stood off in the distance, cheering me on. You know how hard it is to ride a bike on a lawn? Well, consider trying to learn how to ride a bike on long grass. And the mended pedal wasn’t welded on exactly perpendicular, so it had a rhythmic wobble. Motivation compensated for ease, and I did learn how to ride a bicycle. I could only ride the mended bicycle around the gravel farmyard, onto the lawn and back on the driveway. Around and round the house I would go, riding the bike up the driveway and back. The paved road was too busy and dangerous, so I was contained on the gravel.

It wasn’t long until I outgrew the gimpy two-wheeler, and for my 12th birthday, I got a Schwinn Stingray banana bike. Have I mentioned I was a coddled, spoiled, youngest child? If not, then I announce it here. I was a spoiled, youngest child.

I loved that Stingray. When I went off to college my sister-in-law, who housed it for me in her garage, sent me pictures—not of her children, my nieces—but of my Stingray, resting forlornly on its kickstand, next to the horse saddles and vehicles.

College was Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. No one there had a Stingray. The rage then in the 70s were racing style bikes with the under curled handlebars that made riders aerodynamically uncomfortable. But that’s what I wanted.

For once in my life, Daddy didn’t buy me what I wanted. Instead, my Aunt Hano had a cruiser bike a renter had left behind. She gave it to me. OMG, that first year without a car and without a cool bike, I thought I was going to die. Over a period of time, I intentionally didn’t lock my bike behind the dorm. I figured no one would want the ugly, old-fashioned bicycle. I was wrong. Someone needed a bicycle more than I did. I was on foot the remainder of the year.

That summer I worked as a waitress at the Purple Cow Pancake House in Hardin, Montana. Waitressing was such hard work! I vowed I would never do that again, and that’s fodder for another story. The money I made from tips bought me a red, racing style bike for college. It was not a Schwinn, but a C. Itoh. I had never heard of the brand, but it was in my price range. I felt so cool on that bike.

The fact of the matter was and is, I have never been really comfortable riding a bike. I’m sure it stems from riding in the protected farmyard, away from traffic. I had to work at learning to ride without hands on the handlebars, and I seldom if ever rode that way. I’ve always had a slight fear of crashing, and if not dying, then getting rude raspberry skin injuries. I did have one bad crash in college. I was my junior year and I was riding from the center of campus on Escondido Road to Mirrilees Apartments where I lived. A girl on a pink Schwinn cruiser cut in front of me to turn into what was then The Trailers. I hit the front brake and went over the handlebars. It was the one time I wore a short skirt (other girls did, I figured I could) that day, and it was a big mistake. I ended up at the Student Health Center, under observation for a concussion. The only head injury was that I was hopping mad at that dumb girl on the pink bike, and that was more of an ego injury, truth be told.

I hauled that bike with me from California, to Minnesota, to Iowa, to Missouri, to Colorado and back to Minnesota. I had it for over 20 years until I finally broke down and sold it. I went bicycle-less for about ten years and then bought his-and-her no name bikes for $100 total off Craigslist for Scot and me. We used those bikes for maybe ten years, and they served us well—I definitely got my money’s worth. I took my little dog, Kiba, with us in a basket tied to the back rack. After Scot died and I sold most of our worldly furniture and goods, I tried to keep those bikes, but the bike shop manager just shook his head when I asked him to tune the woman’s bike up. “Not worth it. I won’t do it and I won’t take your money,” was all he said.

The last bike I had leading up to my new eBike is a perfectly fine, very nice aluminum frame Fuji women’s cruiser. Yes, I am back to cruiser bikes. I’ve had neck pain since my early 60s, and I finally admitted sitting upright was much better than bent over handlebars going 7 MPH. I bought this bike off Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace from a woman younger than me who said, “My biking days are over.” Hmmmm, my biking days are just re-beginning, I thought.

I love this bike, too. I continue to take my little dog with me, and I imagine I look akin to the Wicked Witch of the West, with Kiba in the basket in the back, just not so wicked. I can walk or bike to my grocery store, hardware store, Dairy Queen, restaurants. It makes me feel urbane.  My condo is on a bike path, part of a confluence of at least five bike trails.

BUT. And there it is, the “but” in the story. I am still a bit afraid of my bicycle, and I avoid biking in groups not only because of Covid, but for fear of falling behind.

And that’s where my eBike comes in. Why I “needed” the eBike.

And that’s where I’ll continue this adventure in bicycling.













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