By John Gladden
What is your best bicycling memory? Why not share it in honor of National Bike Month?
Think back. What was your most epic ride? Have you experienced a memorable encounter with Newton’s Laws of Motion? What was the most breathtaking scenery you’ve witnessed from the saddle of a bike?
Can you recall a special moment of family togetherness? Friendship? Even romance? A dog that gave you a run for your money? In my case, it was an angry Canada goose that came after me like a Klingon warship attacking the USS Enterprise.
Maybe you’re like me in the way that riding a bicycle has been one of life’s most constant blessings. It’s one of the few activities you can enjoy at age 10 and love it just as much when you’re 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 or better.
I don’t remember the day I learned to walk or drive a car or fry an egg or use a computer, but I sure remember the day I learned to ride on two wheels.
The bike was an early 1970s Murray, gold frame, with a three-speed stick-shift and a banana seat. I coasted down the hill of the bank barn at Grandpa’s farm, learning to balance. The first time I managed to stay upright, I was so astonished I forgot to steer and I crashed into a fence post.
I remember every bike I ever owned — from that banana-seat beauty, to the Giant road bike I ride today. I still pine for my first 10-speed — a blue AMF Roadmaster tricked out with a cable-driven speedometer (the height of bike technology at the time) and stainless steel toe clips (making me a serious cyclist in the eyes of my friends). The bike was stolen when I took it to college. Broke my heart. We were best friends.
Always an independent cuss, when I was 13 or 14 years old, I insisted on riding this bicycle to summer camp, which happened to be only a mile or two away from our rural central-Ohio home. I carried a huge army duffel bag across my back, filled with clothes and gear. My fishing pole was bungeed to the top tube, sticking out from the front like a harpoon.
At camp, I hid my bike behind the dining hall for the week, covering it carefully with an old plastic tablecloth I had brought along. I checked on it as the days passed, just to make sure it was OK.
Yes, I am a bicycle geek.
I say all this as a prelude to the subject of memorable childhood crashes. On the way home from camp, I was cruising down the highway at a good clip, my hands on top of the handlebars. The weight of the duffel bag — now filled with stinky, wet camped-in clothes and heavier than before — must have shifted on my back as I pedaled. My sweaty left hand slid off the handlebars like a shot.
With all my weight — and the weight of the duffel — now resting only on my right hand, the handlebar turned hard to the left, bringing the front wheel to a 90-degree angle to the rest of the bike.
I was tail over teakettle and into the grassy ditch faster than you can say “Levi Leipheimer.” No helmet, of course, back in the dark ages. Landing on that duffel bag filled with wet towels and dirty T-shirts probably saved me a broken clavicle.
The day I proposed to my first and only wife, we rented a rusty red bicycle-built-for-two and pedaled along the shore of Lake Erie for a picnic. The ring was safety-pinned inside my backpack beside the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because I was terrified of losing it.
I remember two things from that day. First, I seemed to do most of the pedaling. Second, the chain kept coming off the bike and my hands soon were covered in grease from putting it back on. A metaphor of my life.
Actually, make that three things I remember: She did say yes. That’s my best bicycle memory of all. We have a tandem bicycle ornament we hang on our Christmas tree every year to remind us of that day.
I was a sprinter and long-jumper when I ran high school and college track. The sensation of flying you get running and jumping is addictive. Nowadays, I only get that feeling when I am on my bicycle sailing down a country road on a gorgeous day, smelling the blossoms of spring, my body like a warm engine, feeling alive. It’s the same sensation I got when I was 10 years old.
Whenever I feel the weight of years and life’s responsibilities on my body and spirit, I know the secret to feeling 10 years old again is parked right outside my door. All I have to do is put on my helmet and go for a ride.
I’d love to hear your favorite bicycle memory. If there’s a good response from readers, I’ll print a selection of them in a future column. Remember, make it brief and make it your best, if you hope it to be published. Please email your memory to the address below.
Most of all, don’t let Bike Month go by without going for a ride. Make it special. Pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and have a picnic. Motorists, share the road. Cyclists, wear your helmets — and be sure to watch out for those geese.
For more on Bike Month, visit the League of American Bicyclists at www.bikeleague.org.