Back in the 70s, freedom had two wheels, a chain and pedals. Every day after school and all summer long, grab your bike and go.
My first bike was a pink Huffy, 3-speed road bike. I always have essentially hated pink, but I suppose my mother got a great deal on it. I had a love hate relationship with that bike.
My heart, my coveting, my lust was a Sting Ray with a sissy bar, banana seat, ape hanger handle bars. Maybe some handle bar tassles. My brothers, normal sized boys for their ages, they got those bikes. Orange or green, ready to do wheelies and burn rubber with coaster brakes.
I was a big girl, though, and even at 9 or 10 years old, I could straddle a small woman’s bike frame. I imagine Pat, my mother, also was hedging her investment. If I kept growing, a tiny girls bike could be crushed under my weight.
(Ironically, and looking back, I was big for a kid but I couldn’t have been that big. I’m a short grown up who has to have a small frame and/or crank the seat post low. Sigh.)
The pink Huffy was big and heavy compared to a Sting Ray, but he’ll if I didn’t ride it for miles and miles and miles and miles. In my gel-softened lens memory, it took me places in a hurry and on a hot summer’s day there was nothing quite like pedaling maniacally to a destination, like a friend’s house or the local park, and flinging yourself and your bike into the cool, green grass of the suburbs.
Of course, I have a distant memory of a lawn fling that landed on some dog shit and the subsequent furious rinsing out of my shirt in my friend’s bathroom sink. Life is a bittersweet ride.
The Huffy, though, perhaps because it was not the bike of my dreams and got tossed carelessly onto sidewalks and lawns, suffered an ignominious fate. Without a kickstand, I had dropped it flat on the side of a friend’s grass not noticing the wheels jutting onto the asphalt of the driveway. As we played nearby, her dad’s car ground the wheels under its tires and pulled the frame into a twisted mess.
I waked the pretzel home, crying in shame for my part in the massacre and sadness for the loss. In my head I tried to come up with something to say to soothe the yelling that would be unleashed in Pat. Yell she did, and the Huffy was out out in the trash.
It was a while before I got another bike, and shoe leather was my only transportation. On a bike you can cover ground quickly and work is like play. Walking, on the other hand, in the long streets of suburban neighbors is a death march that feels like hours and days gone.
Thinking back, I thought the reason I couldn’t get a new bike right away was punitive. Probably it wasn’t entirely. The household budget kept by my mother likely only allotted one bike per kid in a multi-year plan.
Finally, my day came, and I was presented with a completely awesome Raleigh sports 3-speed hub gear touring bike with a leather seat. That bike was completely a great bike, and I should have held onto it forever. It rode sweet and lasted for years. I’m not actually sure when it left my life.
I suspect it was a victim of Pat’s damp basement and the tides of changing technology and fashion.
When I was a kid, most bikes were fixed gear or 3-speed. Serious bike riders, people like my oldest brother who had a racing bike of whatever alloy was lightest and super thin, slick tires, had 10 speeds. Mere mortals pedaled around primitively, as derailleurs were pricey and rare.
By the 80s and 90s, that changed to every bike having many gears, different type of shifters, and normal people talking about gear ratios. Mountain bikes with knobby tires and forks and treads to handle any terrain were the bike to have. My Raleigh was a quaint old British gal not torqued up for life in the fast lane.
On my own, a young adult in the city, I needed a ride to cover miles when cars and public transportation were not on track. My Specialized Hardrock was a basic mountain bike with semi-slick tires for the urban jungle.
That red machine covered all manner of terrain from potholes to sandy ditches in every neighborhood of Cambridge and a good chunk of Boston. It was my commuter ride to more than one job, when I was relatively fit and the subway and busses too slow. It saved me hundreds in parking fees had I driven.
It was on that bike I was flipped over a car door, sprawled on Mass. Ave. directly in front of Harvard Law’s Pound Hall. It was also that bike that often took me to the Walsh Brothers Great and Secret Show.. And, it was the bike I has when I met the man who would become my husband, who cruised town almost exclusively on two wheels.
That awesome bit of freedoms was sold for the great move west. I’m sad I don’t have a picture.
I’m now on my third California bike. The Cannondale hybrid bought in San Jose, which gave me an extra radius to explore our new neighborhood, is gone and only dimly remembered. It may have been red. Or white. Or a color. It left my possession ironically.
I bought the bike when we were living in a sketchy neighborhood in a sketchy apartment, maintained by a sketchy landlord. The carport where I mostly kept it wasn’t the safest shelter, but it survived the mean streets.
Moving on up to an upscale suburb and a decent neighborhood, we moved to a nicer place. The lock was cut and it was gone.
M. and I both bought Giants. His is red and built for speed. Mine was green and built for commuting.
A great ride broken in for commuting like none of my bikes before. The green machine now lives with a 13-year-old in Santa Cruz. I was misty as I said goodbye, but my old body couldn’t give the bike what she needs.
And, now the real point of all of this writing. I have come full circle.
I never had Jan Brady’s bike. I never had a two-wheeler built for looks and heading to California beaches. I couldn’t have in the 70s the Sting Ray bike I wanted.
This cruiser is my future and my past. Everything old is new again and I know that there are many miles to go.