I’ve had an abstruse relationship with the bicycle since my 5th birthday when my gracious parents gifted me with a blue and white Schwinn Sting-Ray, circa 1975. I cried when the bicycle was rolled out of its hiding place and presented to me. My parents wondered aloud if those were tears of joy. I lied and said they were. I had been hoping for a guinea pig.
That very afternoon, my dad took me out to the street for my first lesson. It didn’t go well. I had yet to learn the satisfaction of mastering a challenge. I threw my sneakers across the room after attempting to tie them for the first time, and I parked my bike in the garage for two years after trying to ride it for the first time. There it sat, collecting garage dust and cat hair during what should have been its glory days.
One spring Saturday as I sat cross-legged in front of the Zenith watching Super Friends, and drinking up the sugary sweet, Dig ‘em-flavored milk in my cereal bowl, my mother announced, “Today, you are going to learn to ride your bike. I’m putting it in the car, and we are not coming home until you ride it.” This was the same tactic she had employed a year earlier with the log ride at Knotts Berry Farm. She suffered through my relentless whining at each turn of the switchbacks for the better part of the 30 minutes we spent in line. For all my complaining, she simply responded, “You WILL ride this ride and you will LIKE it!” From that day forward, the steeper the drop, the faster the corner, the twistier the turn; the happier the girl. So, with her game face on, off we went with the bike in the back of the red Mercury station wagon to the top of a long empty street.
Here I must pay homage to my fine mother. It was physically painful for her to run due to dislocated ball and socket joints. But she ran behind my bike anyway. She sacrificed her own comfort, suffering through physical pain so that her daughter would not miss out on one of the fundamental joys of childhood. I learned to ride my bike that day in spite of myself, and because of the tenacity of my mother.
The blue bicycle and I had finally made peace. It served as my race car when I was a Charlie’s Angel (Farrah Fawcet or Cheryl Ladd of course), as my get-away car when I was Daisy Duke slipping through the clutches of Boss Hog, and as my invisible jet when I was Wonder Woman saving the planet from unspeakable evil. And then we outgrew one another.
It was the fall of 1979, and I had my heart set on a ten-speed. It was all I wanted for Christmas that year. I got a Simon game instead.
Taking matters into my own hands, and starting with the cash I got for Christmas, I squirreled away every dollar earned from a perfect spelling test, every pittance from birthday cards, including the $2.00 bill from Uncle Bob, and every bonus earned from extra chores. Six months later, I had managed to tuck away $64.00 into my little pink bank with the pad lock. Losing the key to this bank probably helped speed the process.
In late spring, while reading the evening paper, my dad spotted ten-speed bikes on sale at Sears for $79.00. Convinced that was a good deal, he agreed to front the last $15.00. Handing over my small fortune, I commissioned my father with the task of obtaining the bicycle. I told him to pick out a blue bike, but if not blue then green. He called from the pay phone outside the store, they only had yellow, and they only had “boy” frames.
I watched my dad assemble my yellow bike in the family room against the backdrop of Ted Koppel speaking urgently about Americans being held hostage in Iran. My yellow bike was the same hue as the ribbons I’d seen circling the eucalyptus trees. By that weekend, I was proudly peddling my new Free Spirit bike, and by the next January, the hostages were free spirits too.
My yellow ten-speed transported me to the donut shop on Saturday afternoons (two donuts- one sugar, one glazed), to the grocery store for cat food (it felt good to be helpful), to my first job polishing the chrome of a catering truck, and to early morning pep squad practices. It even accompanied me on some early “date-like” activities. My yellow Free Spirit was freedom for me; but sometime between the twilight of my high-school years and the dawning of post-college reality, my Free Spirit vanished.
As a wedding gift, my husband gave me a fabulous teal green Diamond Back mountain bike. He had me close my eyes while he carried me over the threshold of our tiny duplex and in to the spare room where he had the bike waiting for me. I cried tears of joy (real ones this time) and shrieked with delight! It was a beautiful symbol of the adventurous life we were planning to share together. He, being an avid mountain biker, had visions of his young bride joining him on the trails. Sadly, as it turns out, the bike I ride must be on pavement for me to keep from falling off. We rode through an orchard and I tipped over in the thick undergrowth. We rode through the sand and I got stuck. I took it down a small dirt hill in a local park and discovered a whole new level of clumsy. We forged an early marital compromise. If we wanted to spend time together on organic material, we’d use the feet God gave us and a pair of hiking boots. If we went for a bike ride, we’d stick to man-made surfaces. I still bemoan my off-road deficiencies. I daydream about overcoming my ineptitude on those creviced, uneven, steep, bone-crushing trails. Maybe I should try again.
It’s been 17 years now I still love that bike. Our family of two has become a three-some and my beautiful teal bike is creating memories with my own child now as I ride beside her. I heard the echoes of my mother a few summers back when we yanked the training wheels off the Barbie bike and I said to my daughter, “Today you will learn to ride this bike – and you will love it!” She, like me, gave some attitude, but ride it she did – in spite of herself. I wonder if she imagines she’s Hiccup on the back of Toothless, or Sally Carrera racing over the highway with Lightning McQueen…