I like my new bicycle. Well, it’s not exactly new but it is new to me. It’s the first bicycle I’ve owned since I was 13, nearly 55 years ago, and I’m itching for a warm spring day to get out and see if the old adage is true about never forgetting how to ride a bike.
I obtained my pre-owned bike by being the winning bidder at an auction last fall. It’s just like new, with a sturdy steel frame, knobby tires, hand brakes, and at least 10 gears. The circumstances of how I came to own my first bicycle and its condition are quite a different story.
A few weeks before my 13th birthday I broke my right ankle sliding into home plate – a cinderblock someone had unwisely buried in the ground except for the top lip of the block. Like the shattering of a cracked bat, you could hear the bones of my ankle crack as my foot hit the block and my whole body twisted and flipped over the top of home plate – painfully, safe!
After surgery the next morning I lay in the hospital bed with a metal pin (basically a long screw without a head) protruding from my ankle through a hole in the cast that extended from my toes to above my knee, with my leg suspended high in the air by traction cables. My parents, in a moment of pity and good intentions beyond their means, promised me a new bicycle for my birthday. The thought of it almost made the whole experience seem worthwhile.
My birthday came and went. I don’t remember what I got, but it wasn’t a bicycle. I was disappointed, of course, but not upset. One of the important life lessons I had learned during my first 12 years was that getting upset over disappointments does no good – you have to get over it and get on with life. This is a life principle I still live by today.
But my luck had not run out entirely. Hardly a week after my birthday my brother, Mick, came home late one evening with an old, well-used bicycle. I don’t know where he got it but from the looks of the thing he could have found it in a dumpster – except dumpsters didn’t exist in the 1950s.
It was your basic beater bike – more rust than paint on the slightly bent frame, ditto on the rear wheel, which was missing a few spokes, well-worn tires, no fenders, a loose chain, broken pedal, no grips on the handlebars…you get the picture. How Mick rode it home from wherever he got it remains a mystery, but the next morning he announced, “It’s yours if you want it, kid.” Zowee! I had my birthday bike after all.
Like the bicycle building Wright brothers trying to get off the ground at Kitty Hawk, I spent more time tinkering on that old bicycle that summer than I did riding it, and just like Orville and Wilbur, never for a moment was I discouraged or deterred from my goal.
The fact that most of my friends rode shiny new Western Auto or Schwinn bikes didn’t bother me a bit. As soon as my ankle healed enough to get around (which included the rather excruciating experience of the doctor removing the long pin from my ankle with a reverse drill, and without benefit of anesthetic), I resumed my Grit newspaper route and soon saved enough money to purchase the parts required to make the bike roadworthy. This included a coat of bright blue paint, a new chain, and replacing the broken spokes and pedals. I even added a horn and handlebar grips with streamers.
That fall I began my freshman year of high school. It was no longer cool to ride a bicycle to school so I sold my bike to an equally poor neighbor kid for $7, a good price at the time and more than enough to cover my repair expenses.
All in all, it was a good summer and a rewarding experience. Now, if that spring day would just hurry up and arrive.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Yvonne, live in Jackson Township.