Start on a grassy knoll, a few years before “grassy knoll” became something sinister, urban and blood-spattered instead of blissful, pastoral and full of dandelions.
Revel between fear and excitement, but don’t make the connection that it’s just another balancing act of your life. Wait until you’re old to do this.
Grow out of your first bike, a Huffy Convertible, so called as the cross bar could be removed to make it a girl’s bike or put on to make it a boy’s bike. Who knew? A bike with gender identity issues. Demand a real bike, an English Racer 10-speed. End up with a neighbor’s slightly-used Schwinn 3-Speed that looks like the one the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz rode. Refuse to ride it until “genuine racing bars” are installed. Ride it to death.
Discover that previous and older Schwinn owner is faster. Decide to see what happens if you undo his Sturmey-Archer 3-Speed shift cable most of the way from the hub. Debate mentioning it when he goes riding. Don’t. Suffer disappointment and relief when nothing happens. Sneak into his garage and tighten it.
Hit a growth spurt just to justify needing a new bike. Almost get a lime-green English Racer. Mother hates bike shops, but loves shopping. At May Co. you get another Schwinn, this time a metallic-blue Varsity “10 Speed.” After a week return it because in your estimation it was only a 5-Speed as any idiot could see that there were only 5 gears in the back.
Get a candy apple red Schwinn Stingray at the bike shop. Find out that the Varsity really was a 10-Speed as you were supposed to multiply the back five gears with the front two as any idiot should know. Realize this might have something to do with your disinterest in math.
Ride the Stingray to death. Build jumps in vacant lots. Learn to pull Brodies, later popularized as “drifting.” Walk it up hills: wish you had gears. Decide to see if you can stop the bike with a parachute like the drag racers do. Should be easy: tie kite string to the corners of a pillowcase, put it in a show box, hang it on the back of the Sting Ray with the rip cord clenched in your teeth. Get so focused on getting the chute to deploy that you run into the back of a parked car. Abandon the chute idea. Cross “Becoming an Engineer” off 6Th Grade Career Day goals list.
Decide to combine bike riding and violin practice by walking up to the top of the hill (but not the very top) and riding no-hands back down while playing the theme from “Combat.” Too bad this was way before “America’s Got Talent.”
Move to a new city. Trade the Stingray for another Schwinn 10-Speed Varsity. Start high school. Decide you really should get a car…hah! Start to play chicken with cars at 4-way stops. Game over when one turns out to be an unmarked cop car and you get a ticket.
Go to court to argue that it ‘s blatantly discriminatory to make a cyclist pay the same fine as the driver of a motor vehicle as cyclists don’t have to be licensed. Get told it’s a $25 parking ticket and not to waste the court’s time. Realize that this will not be going to the Supreme Court on appeal after all.
Graduate high school. Go to Europe. Get stuck when everything comes to a standstill for the Tour de France. “Le Tour, Le Tour, c’est ici” is echoing off the ancient buildings throughout the town. You have no idea what “Le Tour” is. Apparently it’s bike racing…and takes all two minutes for the racers to pass through. Find out years later that the rider in the orange Molteni jersey leading the pack was God himself. But you didn’t have a clue at the time who Eddy Merckx was.
Start college. Get a job. Buy a French 10 Speed, wool shorts and tiny little bike shoes. Watch mother go into hysterical laughter: look down and start laughing, too.
Get a girlfriend. Give her the Schwinn. Break up. Have her show up at your front door six months later with the bike, which she “Never wanted or liked.” Wonder if by extension she meant you, too. Decide that it’s not a good idea to give a Schwinn to someone you want to like you. That’s what Italian bikes are for.
French bike shifts better than Schwinn but creaks like a Huffy. Buy a brown Nishiki with Suntour derailleurs and bar-end shifters. Replace brown Nishiki with a faster blue Nishiki Comp—same gears but “sew-up” wheels. Find out just how sticky tubular tire glue is on the side of the road changing a flat. Wonder if new nickname will be “Tar Baby.”
Talk friends into sponsoring you at 5 cents a mile on a McDonald’s 25-Mile Charity ride. Get caught up in the proceedings and do it three times. Get coupons for enough cheeseburgers to get you through college, but lose several friends for “overachieving.”
Years pass. Bikes come and go (see embarrassingly-long list at end). Suddenly your kids are about your size and getting faster than you. Spouse rides. Hang around bikes clubs. Finally join a couple, wonder why not joining a bike club makes you eventually feel guilty but you can steadfastly avoid contributing to NPR.
Make lots of new friends. Find that you can increase fitness by finding a way to go faster if you are in a bad conversation on the road. “Sorry, I have to do intervals. Now.” Have an epiphany that friends who are getting faster might be doing so for the same reason.
Talk entire family into doing the Amtrak Century. Discover how much work project managing four people’s bikes, gear and fun-level can be.
Go to Italy. Realize Italian drivers are more skillful and courteous than in California. Even if they are using both hands to wave. Develop a passion for Italian bikes, wine and cuisine.
Ride for the Cure. Ride for Cystic Fibrosis. Ride for AIDS. Wonder if we should be riding against theses things. Semantics.
Discover that social media has eroded communal need for bike clubs. Create a group with friends: Dawn Riders. Wonder why some of them take this literally.
Go to first Tour of California. Miss the next eight as it discriminates against Orange County. Go to 2015 event final stage, mostly because of VIP Pass and someone else driving to Pasadena.
Jaw drops in SRAM booth when God himself saunters in. This time you know who Eddy Merckx is. You get a picture, and tell him this is the second time you’ve run into him. It’s a really good story, you’re spinning it with color and pizzazz and you don’t think he cares to hear it.
Go home. Change clothes, pump the tires, get on the bike and go climbing Just to feel the wind flirting with the hair on your arms, drying the sweat beading up on your skin, the sun warming your legs, and the bike dancing with you, a pas de deux up the narrow road up to the water tower.
You’ve met Eddy Merckx again, you are smiling at the thought you have dropped him, a ridiculous concept that. You realize you’re laughing makes at the pure ridiculousness of the idea. You do a lap around the tower, still chuckling. In front of you are the Tustin helicopter hangers, strawberry farms, the terra cotta spread of residential developments, the Spectrum, freeways, and Saddleback Mountain: it’s beyond what a panorama snap shot can capture. Interlaced layers of light, life, hope and possibilities.
Bikes that contributed to this article:
Schwinn Sting Ray
Bianchi Nuovo Racing
Specialized Stumpjumper Comp
Merlin XL Compact
Toyota United Team Bike
Cannondale Super Six
Cannondale System Six
Colnago C59 (stolen, recovered later)
Cannondale EVO HM
Cannondale Synapse HM Disc