Most of us have a memory of the time we learned to ride a bike. As a kid I grew up on a lightly traveled side street ideal for learning how to ride safely. The graduation from a tricycle to a two wheeler was one of the great moments of my life. That summer at the end of August I got a brand spanking new bicycle for my birthday. It was a royal blue Robin Hood single speed which I was allowed to use going to school for the first few weeks of the fall till the weather turned and the freedom and speed it gave me was intoxicating.
Through public school from grade 3 on till I went in to high school I, and most of the guys and girls we knew went pretty much everywhere by bike until the weather took us off them each fall. Then we got cool.
Even though I didn’t have a car I gave up the bike. I would hitchhike around town instead of just hopping on for a ride. I’d walk miles backward with my thumb out waiting for rides or even just give up and walk anyway. My dad after watching the bike sit at the back of the garage for a couple of years asked if I thought I’d ever ride it again and when I said no he sold it.
Later yet in grade 13 I had a girlfriend who lived about 5 miles away. Sometimes I could use the family car to go see her but frequently with a family of at that time four drivers, and only one car I would hitch down to her place to pick her up or perhaps get the bus. After a date it was the reverse as I’d try to hitch or walk home again. It was then I had an epiphany. If I stopped worrying about how cool or uncool I was I could get a bike and cut my travel time significantly. Less travel time meant of course more possible nookie time before curfew and so, using my Sears discount I purchased a new Sears ten speed, right red this time, because everyone knows red vehicles are the fastest ones.
That was in 1967. Not many adults at the time were found on bikes. The bike did of course cut down on my travel time for dates and any thing else I needed to get to around the town. I also noticed that it gave me a whole new appreciation for the topography of the city.
St Catharines lies in a fairly narrow strip of land between the south shore of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment. Within this ancient flood zone the land is quite flat cut only every so often by creeks or rivers heading north into the lake. But what I noticed was that major hills weren’t required to feel the difference between going up or down hill on the road. The smoothness and ease of gliding on the bike meant that the slightest rise or fall of the land was felt in the effort required. Roads you would call flat in a car became intimately known for the slight inclines. Smoothness of pavement was another consideration. All this and unknown to me a love of travel by bike was growing in me.
Now I’m 61 instead of 16. I couldn’t care less if any one thinks I’m cool and I have spent some of the best times of my life on a bike. Exploring near and far, traveling just for the fun of it. Utility riding to save time compared to walking and money compared to a car. I’ve done it all even including a tiny bit of racing with no worldly success other than seeing how fast I could go.
Now I’m hoping that the spring brings with it renewed health and I can again get out on my bike; a fast red one of course, and once again feel the freedom and fun of being self propelled on one of the greatest engineering concepts man has ever devised.
Do you cycle? Did you give it up and then return like I did or have you been faithful through out?
And if you ride what kind of riding do you like best?