I’ve been reading through Ken Kifer’s site lately. Ken was one of the first to document what today is classified as the “bicycle lifestyle.” I’m sure that phrase conjures up all sorts of visions, from one who rides alot for recreation, training, or camping; to someone who virtually lives on their bike as they travel about the world via self-supported touring. Visions aside, it got me thinking about my initial entry into biking, and the mention that for Ken, his bike was his favorite possession when growing up.
That is an epiphany. I’m going to agree that from age 9 until 14, my bikes were also my favorite possession. I didn’t learn to ride until I was 9, which I think was late for a kid. Much of that is because I pretty much was a wimp. I had two older sisters, wasn’t that great at sports, and didn’t really get into the trouble that most boys manage.
But when I did finally take the plunge, it was on an old English three-speed with 27″ wheels and a manual siren that I inherited from an uncle. I remember that it had odd shaped upright bars that I wrapped in bright red electrical tape because they were rusted, black fenders, a Sturmey Archer hub and thumb shifter, and that siren. It was fork mounted, and pivoted so that it would engage by rubbing up against the tire. It was loud. So loud that people would stop to look. Today it would probably cause a lot of trouble.
Mastering that bike opened up my world, and I discovered so much beyond the confines of our street and the one behind us that made up the sub-division. I could ride over to the school, to the ball fields, to the playgrounds, and to schoolmates houses miles away. We had a station wagon, so throwing it in the back for a ride home was no problem.
I’m not sure what happened to that bike, but it was replaced by a three speed Sears Stingray. When I had talked my dad into buying me a new bike, we looked at the three speed and a five speed; and I think seeing the complex derailleur turned him off. Plus we saved $10.
Interestingly, I have a memory of riding my blue Stingray with a posse of kids down Mine Road, and noting that all of the kids on the old English style bikes were passing us. I ended up customizing that bike with shock absorbers for the back of the black banana seat with silver racing stripe (which broke because I didn’t account for the flex on the seatpost mount), and by putting some chrome fork extensions on it to give it a chopper look. Again, I don’t remember where that bike ended up. At some point, there was also a blue Schwinn single speed Stingray in the mix as well.
Eventually, after we moved to Reading and I started playing drums, my bike was no longer my favorite possession. I had a ten speed, but I rarely rode it.
If I were to ask my kids today what their favorite possessions are, I’d probably hear computer, PSP box, Legos, and probably guitars…possibly some sports equipment. And today for me… it’s all full circle.
So the point is that I’m a little saddened that our world has changed. I doubt few kids would point to their bikes with the same love and wunderlust. They don’t know what they’re missing.