Okay, another rainy Saturday is upon me. Perhaps I would brave the deluge, but I’m also still nursing my miserable cold, which left me Sleepless in Somewhere Near Seattle last night. Combine that with a general sense of February Ennui, and riding just isn’t a possibility. Again.
Well, I thought, I’ll look to other bike blogs for inspiration. Veloria, over at Lovely Bicycle!, posts every darn day! How does she do that? What on earth is there to talk about? I’m sort of in awe of her ability to always find something to say, and 90% of the time, it’s really interesting and apt and everything! The rest of the bike blogs I read post less frequently, like me, so they were no use in terms of inspiration (c’mon guys, a little help here!).
I mean, look, I have a life and everything, but I don’t write about that (much). I do… stuff. I go… places. I eat… things. But this is a bike blog, and I just don’t have the material unless I ride my bike.
Or do I…
My students tell me that what they love most about me is my ability to make complex ideas clear through story-telling. I joke that I’m like Jesus, and speak in parables. But it’s true to some extent: I have a gift for remembering events in tiny detail, and for being able to “spin” those events, however mundane, into a narrative thread. That’s what a ride report is, after all. So I thought I’d tell some fun bicycle stories, accompanied by the occasional somewhat-appropriate photograph.
Then I went through all my old family photographs.
Imagine stumbling on this gem: that’s my grandfather in a bathing suit, circa 1928 or so. He’s so glam! But no bike.
Oh my god. I think my obsession with strange old cars is explained! That’s a 60’s model Saab 96 wagon parked in front of my childhood home. I want it!
There is not a single photo of me on any of my bikes. Now this would seem odd, except that as I looked through all my family photos, I came to the startling realization that if it didn’t occur at my grandmother’s house at Christmas, probably no photographs of it exist. So that birthday party where I received my first bike? Nope. The birthday where I received my second bike? Nope. That birthday where I received my third bike? Nada.
My earliest wheels. That sweater of my mother’s rocks, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, I know what the actual colors were…
It’s not that my family took no photos. They did. But for the most part, the photos were of special occasions where everyone was in attendance, neatly posed in their best clothing. Things like my eighth birthday, which was probably composed of shrieking little girls and my dad, went almost totally unrecorded.
In fact, as I was using my brand new camera to take photographs of my son, I realized that in the 28 years my mother knew me, she never owned a single camera. She never took a single photograph. My dad, who is an artist, took a few when I was a baby, but for the most part, my childhood is chronicled in the poorly-composed Polaroids of my grandmother.
So okay, here’s a bit of my bike history, illustrated by photographs that have very little to do with it, or stuff from other sources.
When I was seven years-old, we lived in an apartment in Ballard, which is the Scandinavian neighborhood of Seattle. Well, it used to be. Now it’s mostly yuppified townhouses and condos with fake Swedish names. We weren’t Scandinavian: just poor, and Ballard was cheap.
My mother worked as a secretary in the mayor’s office, and my dad was a woodworker (they were divorced), so funds were limited. My mother gave me the Sears catalog and told me to pick out the bike I wanted. I picked out a stylish rainbow number, with a banana seat. Then I saved half of the cost, setting aside allowances for nearly a year. Finally, my parents sprang for the rest, and I got my first bicycle. I was eight, and had never ridden a bike for even a moment. I still remember clearly my father setting me up and giving me a push, in front of the entire gaggle of birthday attendants. I plowed the bike into a prickly little bush.
That’s it, option 2. Can you imagine paying nearly $70 for a kid’s bike in 1979? That just seems outrageous. In today’s prices, it’s like my parents went to Sears and got me… oh wait. My local bike shop sells a kid’s Felt that runs nearly $300 and is made out of about the same quality of materials at that Sears, or worse. Never mind.
I think that’s probably the correct party. But there’s no bike in sight. Those giant frilly shoulder straps are sorta cool, though.
Fortunately, I recovered from my humiliation and learned to ride the bike. God, how I loved that machine. Coaster brake, stingray style… and rainbows! There was no way to improve it. The beauty of this sort of bike is how easily it can be ridden by more than one child: one on the handlebars, and two on the banana seat (it even had a little metal bar on the back of the seat like a motorcycle, so your friend could hold on just like those babes on the backs of Harleys). This little bar was particularly useful if you wanted to do something really stupid, like tow your friend around the neighborhood while she was wearing roller skates.
Like these 70’s numbers: white, with blue and red trim and skateboard wheels… they were SWEET.
See, since I was a very small child, I had heard the same story: I would flip through my mother’s photo album, and always stop on the same photograph of one of her birthday parties (which are far better documented than my own).
This is not the photograph I’m referring to here, because of course, I couldn’t actually find that one.
Anyway, in the front of the camera sat an incredibly beautiful young girl. “Mama,” I would say, repeatedly, “what happened to the little girl in that photograph?”
“Oh,” my mother would say, on cue, “she was roller skating behind her friend’s bicycle, and she fell on her face. Then she wasn’t as pretty anymore.”
So of course, I had to do this myself when I was twelve. Other kids smoked behind the woodshed, or sipped from their parents’ empty martini glasses, or tried pot. We all have our rebellions, you know? So what if mine was sort of lame.
Holding onto the back of my own bicycle while my friend pedaled me around the block, I was having a blast. Then the toe of my skate hit a rock. You know those little, red lava rocks that people use to fill spaces beside the sidewalk? Well, I hit one of those. The reason I hit one was that someone had filled in a space beside the sidewalk… and those stupid little rocks were then all over the sidewalk. So after I hit the first one, I proceeded to hit a few more.
Okay, a lot more.
With my knees, as my friend dragged me along behind her for at least twenty feet.
Eventually she stopped, and I let go of the bar on the back of the banana seat. All I could think was: “I didn’t land on my face!”
I made lots of mistakes when I was 12. But that shirt wasn’t one of them.
What I’d done instead was put all my weight on my left knee, which now looked like someone had attacked it with a serrated grapefruit spoon. Terrified to tell my mother, I went home and carefully put a couple bandaids over my dirt-filled, mangled flesh. It was a week before the smell of the raging infection drove my mother to inquire about what was wrong with my leg. I have vivid memories of lying on the cold steel table at the local hospital, my leg numb, as the doctor picked out hundreds of tiny rock fragments from my suppurating wound.
Twenty years later, little rocks still force their way out of the scar on my knee on occasion.
I can’t tell you how many times I wiped out on that bike. Probably hundreds. My friends and I rode it hard; we rode it fast; we rode it unsupervised for hours on summer afternoons, deep into the wilds of the countryside around the town we had moved to when I was ten. Eventually, it rusted into oblivion at the side of the house. Recently, I saw a cherry one for sale on Craigslist, and was briefly tempted. But let’s be honest: my salad days are over, and there’s no point trying to revisit them outside of memories.
Anyway, like any self-respecting teenager, I eventually out-grew the wild rainbow colors of my first bike, and longed for something more subdued and sophisticated.
Um, yeah. So I asked my mother for a ten speed bicycle, which were all the rage with The Kids in those days. She, being the overprotective woman that she was (she refused, for instance, to let me see Tron), thought that ten speeds just sounded way too dangerous. Look at what I’d been able to do with one!
So she bought me one of these, instead:
A ladies 3-speed “touring” bike, complete with fenders, chaincase… the works. That’s actually the 1986 model, not the 1984 model, but it was essentially the same thing.
I hate, hate, hate, hated that bike. Seriously, can you see the young woman drinking the diet Coke above riding a 3-speed ladies touring bike? I was mortified. It was ugly. It was enormous. It was slow. It had upright handlebars! It looked like my MOM would ride it.
Two days after I got it, I wiped out in my friend’s driveway (on those rocks, you know) and managed to take out my left knee again. This meant that the Free Spirit rusted silently away, unridden, beside the house.
For the next few years, I didn’t own a bike. I was busy snubbing other girls and worrying about having no boobs, you know. No time for riding a bicycle.
Then, for my 16th birthday, my dad offered to buy me a new bike. Not the car I so dearly wanted, of course, but a ten speed bicycle of my choice. We drove down to Gregg’s Greenlake Cycle (which was actually near Green Lake at the time) and I picked out a bike based solely on the pretty turquoise-and-orange color and lion badge. I’m pretty sure it was either this one, or one much like it.
My dad paid, of course, a relative fortune for it (I remember it being close to $300!). I rode it sporadically. Really, I was far too into boys to ride my bike.
No, we didn’t get to ride the early-model crotch rocket in the background, nor do I know why it was there. But I did hand-bead the bodice of my dress while I was working part-time at the maternity shop in the mall. My boyfriend in this picture was in a speed metal band called “Mace.” Seriously. It was the 80’s, okay? We couldn’t help it. Don’t judge. Someday, that will be you, my friend. Maybe it already is.
At any rate, I took the Peugeot to college, and fell for a boy who was on the bike team. Wait! I had a bike! So I rode it for all of six months, until the early-morning workouts got to be too much for me and I began to realize that just riding around looking at his rear end wasn’t going to make him love me. I parked the bike out in front of my dorm, and within days, the front wheel was stolen. By the end of freshman year, I had given it away to a friend of mine who liked bikes.
For the next ten years, I lived without a bike. Occasionally, I rode my then-hubby’s giant Trek mountain bike, with the seat cranked all the way to the ground. The ride was rather uninspiring. But then George Bush entered the White House, and decided to give everyone a nice, fat stimulus check. Now, I’m no Republican, but I am a patriot, and if my president asks me to go out and spend $600 on something I don’t really need, by golly, I’m going to do it! My then-hubby and I headed down to REI to buy ourselves bikes. I have no idea what he bought, but after he talked me out of the single-speed Electra cruisers I was eyeing, I ended up with a K2 comfort bike.
Of course, it was turquoise. With flowers. I thought it was gorgeous.
But strangely, I didn’t really like riding it. The bike I remembered so fondly from my youth had been fun to ride. Maybe I was just getting old, you know? Losing my joie de vivre?
Or maybe I just owned the wrong bike…
If only my snooty 13 year-old ten-speed lovin’ self could see me now! I’m sure I’d be horrified. But I think my 8 year-old self would understand.