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Cycling Through The Ages

Recently, I’ve become nostalgic for my old bicycle – and I think I want one. The problem is, I’m not sure what I would do now with a bike. The idea of both exercise and a fresh air foray is appealing, but for the first time in my life, I’m timid. Could I really do it?

I can picture myself wheeling around town in the sunshine, occasionally waving to a walking friend or a car-horn hello. But is my reaction time good enough for a vehicle that doesn’t have doors or a roof? And do I HAVE to ride on the road? I’m thinking about drivers who do not always pay attention to more than the street straight ahead and their cellphone conversations.

I like the look of the adult tricycles, and got me thinking. If I do this, it would probably have to be the trike. I think Dear Richard would have a catast-a-stroke if I announced I was buying a two-wheeler.

If I rode downtown for errands. I could wheel right up to the bank’s front door – no parking spot necessary. But … what would I do with the big trike? Do I just trustingly leave it there? Do I buy a padlock and lock it up at a parking meter? I’ve never seen anyone do that downtown. If I bought a lock, would it insult to my fellow smalltown citizens?

All this conjecture about the joys and concerns of bike riding brought up a few memories, childhood and otherwise.

My first vehicle, the Spring I was eight, actually was an adult tricycle. An older friend of my mother’s was giving it up. I was desperate for a two-wheeler, but that outright gift was priced right for Mom’s budget.

Back in those days, there were no smaller bikes or training wheels to be had. The small Huffy bikes came along in that era, but not early enough for me. I assume it was invented by some baby boomer dad, who saw the need for a whole new classification of bikes for a new generation of kids.

I lived in an all-boy neighborhood, and they were razzing me pretty hard that I didn’t have a bike. “You don’t need one. You’re JUST a girl. Go play with your dolls.” Yeah, I had dolls. But when I was outside with those loud-mouthed, bike-racing ruffians, I wanted to be one of them.

The big fancy maroon trike was beautiful and almost-new shiny. It had a basket, a bell, and big back fenders. But it was a disaster. I took endless ribbing from the boys about not being able to ride a two-wheeler, and I couldn’t keep up with them speed-wise.

Somehow, Mom understood my need. The following Christmas, I awoke to a blue Schwinn standing beside the tree. It was lightly used, but I never made the connection to Santa’s always-new toys. I must have had an inkling that Mom and Santa were in cahoots.

The Schwinn was wonderful, and lasted me until I got a brand-new, sophisticated black Raleigh to take to college. The English Raleigh bicycle was the Cadillac of the bike world back then. There weren’t 10-speeds, mountain bikes, and the whole panoply of specialties that exist today.

I kept that Raleigh, moving it from college and then on to New York and San Diego. I didn’t ride in those cities but I was determined to hang onto it – mostly, I think, from simple pride of ownership.

I finally needed it again when Tom, my late husband, and I moved to Cambridge, Mass. for him to attend graduate school. We had one car, and the subway didn’t take us everywhere we needed to go. For our first few weeks, having a bicycle solved many problems. We each rode it when the car took me to work or Tom to a study date. It was perfect.

And then someone else decided they needed it more than we did. One morning I came downstairs to find the heavy rear-wheel chain lock hanging empty off the fence rail. I was devastated. We had sought a better solution than chaining it outside, but the building’s superintendent insisted that the only place it could be stored was inside our apartment. It was 56 steps to our fourth-floor walkup. That was NEVER going to happen.

There was no budget for another elegant Raleigh – or any bike.

Nowadays, I’m w-a-a-a-y past the agility required of a Raleigh, but still desire non-motorized wheels. Maybe I should give it up, and simply zip around the backyard in my seated garden cart.

But I just might have trouble finding an ATM among the black-eyed Susans.

Marcy O’Brien can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.

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