The Golden Days
I will always remember when I got my three-speed, sky-blue Schwinn Sting-ray bicycle with its white, banana-shaped seat and removable plexiglas windshield for Christmas. I thought I was the coolest kid in the neighborhood riding that three-speed bike around. It wasn’t nearly as quick as the ten-speeds the older kids had, but it was seriously cool, stylish, and all mine.
Many avid cyclists develop a deep fondness for our rides, perhaps even some name their bicycles. For me, a name never seemed appropriate, but they were my trusted steed all the same.
Sadly, I really cannot recall details about the tricycles and training bicycles I rode prior to the Sting-ray, other than at least one of them was red. The Sting-ray on the other hand was my pride and joy from about age 8 until I was a teenager.
At that point, I had grown too much for it to be a comfortable ride and I was getting tired of not winning the neighborhood bike races we held (and I organized) each May to coincide with the Indy 500. As kids growing up in Indianapolis, that’s what you did each May in the 1960s and 1970s – live, eat, drink, and breath the Indy 500. Perhaps my family more so since my grandparents owned a trailer rental lot on Main Street in Speedway, Indiana.
So, as a teenager, I was given a sporty, sierra brown Schwinn ten-speed street bike. It was a terrific bike, but I never grew as close to it as the Sting-ray. I still rue the fact that we gave away my Sting-ray, but the brown ten speed did make me more competitive in the bike races, though I do not recall ever winning in the awesome race we used to hold around the loop of Delaware Trails North or amid the cul-de-sacs of Somerset. Didn’t really matter, as we had great fun.
The Dark Days
As I began driving at age 16, the use of my brown ten-speed waned more and more. In fact, I didn’t even take it to college or later to grad school. I guess I became an arrogant car culture adherent who thought cycling was passe’. I rode every now and again, but for a good 16 years, cycling was largely off my radar screen. I regret that fact very much, as well as the lost riding opportunities.
Golden Days Return
As my sons grew and rode their bikes, my desire to ride more often also increased. Upon moving to Michigan in 1992, my love affair with the bicycle quickly returned. We lived on a mile-long dusty dirt road near Saline, which was perfect for riding back and forth, as well as through the adjoining subdivisions. As a result, I bought a black, Raleigh 21-speed bike that was a cross between a hybrid and a mountain bike, perfectly suited for the gravelly road conditions. I was back in cycling heaven (for some reason I cannot find a photo of this bike online).
The only problem with our location was, there was no safe way to ride into town without risking life and limb, especially if the kids wanted to join me. None of the nearby paved roads had any kind of shoulder, nor were there sidewalks and/or pathways. This was the first time that cycling advocacy became an important consideration. It seemed downright silly that children had no safe way ride to their schools, or parks, or playgrounds. Communities should not develop in such a manner where it is always necessary to drive a stupid car! It’s not healthy, not smart, not cost-effective, not environmentally sound, and not efficient.
As a result, when we moved to Greater Lansing, one of the principal criteria used was to find a home/neighborhood with access to bike paths and trails. Thankfully, the home we bought was in a subdivision abutting the community’s bicycle-pedestrian pathway system and 20-25 minute ride to/from work.
In the 2000s I started developing some minor numbness in the palms of my hands from the forward leaning riding position on my Raleigh. As more and more of my riding was now commuting to/from work,I decided to replace the Raleigh with a blue and silver (Detroit Lions’ colors) Diamondback Wildwood model that allowed me to sit up straighter. In the meantime my oldest son used the Raleigh while in college in Ann Arbor. After 20 years of use by our family, the Raleigh was sorely in need of major repairs and was sold to a fellow graduate student when his family moved to Massachusetts.
Eventually, as bike commuting became my passion, I added a headlight, storage rack on the back of the bike, as well as a pair of matching saddle bags to transport a change of clothes (when necessary), lunch, my notebook computer, etc. As I developed some back-related problems, the seating, weight, and wider tires of the Diamondback were not working for me.
After much research, in the fall of 2012 I purchased a dark-gray six-speed Citizen Miami folding bike online. I love this bike and have ridden it religiously for the past 18+ months (weather permitting), particularly for work and church commutes, but also for recreational distances as long as ten miles. It is light weight, easy to fold, easy to adjust, fun, and great in nearly all-weather conditions. The only downside trying to keep up with road bikes and hybrids on longer-distance rides and seat comfort after the ten-mile threshold.
Behold. Above is an image of the newest member of my riding stable – a 21-speed Trek Allant utilitarian bicycle. My plan is for it to fill my needs for longer distances while also maintaining my comfort level. I am looking forward to many years of riding fun on my new Allant.
An old friend
One other bicycle must be mentioned in this post. When my mother remarried in the mid 1990s, we presented the newlyweds with a 1970s yellow, five-speed Schwinn Twinn tandem bicycle. This bike has been kept at our family lake cottage for the past few years and every trip there requires a fun-filled ride on this vintage treasure. The tandem is the perfect bike for a lake cottage, as it can be ridden alone or Kathy and I can ride it together. It is also much easier to have it stabled there than to bring multiple bikes with us on the back of the car, though most of them have made at least one trip to the lake.
To this avid cyclist, my bikes have always meant more to me than my automobiles. There is something freeing about riding a bike that cannot be felt in a car. Perhaps it’s the fresh air without the accompanying road noise or exhaust fumes. Perhaps it’s the ability to ride off the beaten path. Perhaps its the health and fitness benefits. Perhaps it’s the numerous environmental benefits. Or, perhaps it is the ability to relive and revive your inner child. My guess is that it is some of all the above, but especially the youthful joy of riding a bicycle that leads the way.