When I was a kid, 90% of the time if I wanted to go somewhere, I either walked or rode my bike. My Dad’s typical response to. “Dad, I need a ride to the bowling alley” (rarely bowled but loved pinball machines) was “Take your bike, the exercise will do you good.”
And so I did. The town we lived in was about 10,000 people so it wasn’t that big, but it was built in the hills and so there was a lot of up and down riding. My Dad was right in that when I started playing sports in school, I was always in good physical shape.
My bike was a tank. The frame was made of nearly 2-inch tubular steel pipe, the gears provided one speed, and to brake, you pushed back on the pedals. I would describe the tires as chunky. They always had tubes inside of them. There were no fenders because they had been removed for no other reason than to look “cool.”
I lived on this bike. It allowed the same freedom as walking, but actually left me with the time to do something when I got there. I used it for transportation, the feeling of speed, and excitement.
Everything from this point on will sound like my mom and dad completely disregarded all parental responsibility—which by today’s standards they did.
But it wasn’t just them; no one paid much attention to bike (or kid) safety back then. This was an age when:
- Bikes had no safety equipment whatsoever or what they did have was dismembered or gotten rid of. Lights were unaffordable extras, there were no reflectors, fenders and chain guards were removed. When handle grips and pedals fell apart, they were not replaced.
- Helmets and kneepads did not exist.
- We often rode two on a bike where the extra rider would sit side-saddle on the bar of the bike, hang off the driver’s back with his feet on the axil nuts, or sit on the handlebars with their feet straddling the front wheel.
- We would hitchhike a ride with someone in a pickup truck to the top of a small mountain and then come blasting down the gravel road for 15 miles.
- We formed piles of dirt into 2-foot ramps and then roared down a hill to get the speed needed for take off.
Now did all our hazardous behavior ever result in accidents—damn right, all the time. Within our group, we had scraped knees, lost teeth, bruised butts, bloody scalps, a few stitches, and at least one broken arm. Lesson learned—hell no, we just waited for the victim to recoup and then started all over again.
Today, I would be the first one to want my grandkids to be equipped from head-to-toe in the finest safety gear before they ride 10 feet on a bike. But when I was a kid, there was no consciousness of danger by kids or parents. And maybe that was a good thing. I think it taught us to be tough, that things do not always go right (and how), and to have the guts to get up, dry your eyes, and get back on your bike again. Did people get hurt—well yes. But for us, injuries were everyday events (sometime let me tell you about the even more death-defying activities of sledding, fireworks, bb-guns, sling shots, diving, raiding church camps, rock climbing, etc.), but there was never anything major. You simply picked yourself up, dusted your bottom off, and yelled, “Wow, did you see that?”
My bike (we didn’t name them) finally died one day a long way from home. I was coming up a long hill and suddenly the welds that held the frame together just broke apart and the bike collapsed into a heap. It came crashing to the pavement like a horse in a western film that has been ridden too long and hard. I guess I had made it do just a few too many Evil Knievel (actually we preceded him) jumps. This tragedy must have happened close to my 16th birthday because I remember moving right into driving a car (now, in a 4,000 pound vehicle, a whole new world of stupid behavior was opened to me).
I have owned a lot of bikes since I was a kid. They were known as racing bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes, and finally, comfort bikes [low, regular handle bars, slightly lowered crossbar, and a super wide seat] (especially designed for GEEZERS), but none of them was ever loved like old no-name.