It was May 1968. I remember that the day was sunny. I was almost finished with my very first year of school as a kindergartener in Miss Austin’s class at Roosevelt Elementary. (I wonder whatever happened to her.) I was standing on the south side of our house and peeking through the basement window. I think my friend Rex from next door had tipped me off.
“I think there’s a bike in your basement,” he said.
So, I peeked in….and spoiled my dad’s surprise.
I couldn’t see it well because the window as dirty and the lights were off in the little oil room off our main basement, but it was there. I could tell. It was a bike and it had to be for me!
Sure enough, the last day of school came and my dad gave me my first bike. It was a bright red Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat! I was the envy of the neighborhood! And, I loved that bike!
I wish I still had it. Besides the fact that it would be worth a chunk of money, it would be special to have it for sentimental reasons. Think about it…if you’re over forty years old…wouldn’t you love to have that first bike that your mom or your dad gave you?
I rode that thing all over the neighborhood. I jumped ramps in the alley. I even broke a bone in my very first serious bike crash.
It was August of 1970 and about a week before 3rd grade. My buddy Jerry was over to the house on his bike. Sometimes I rode to his place, and sometimes he rode to mine. Have wheels, will travel. Anyway, as boys will do, we decided it was time for a little competition. I can’t recall if I challenged him or he challenged me, but we decided to race down the alley. This alley had two gravel ruts with a grass median. I had the left one; he had the right. We were flying! We were a blur! Well, maybe not, but it seemed like it. I was slightly ahead…not by much…but just enough that when I glanced over at Jerry I had to turn my head a bit toward the rear. When I looked forward again, I was headed off track to the left and directly toward a large bush.
One of the cool things about the Schwinn Stingray was the brake system that was built into the pedals. Push the pedal forward and you rode. Push it backward and you braked. Get going fast and then reverse to the brake and you could pull a neat sideways skidding slide. It was fun when you did it on purpose, but pretty scary when you were really trying to stop in a hurry.
I was headed toward that bush so I slammed on the brake and began a slide as the rear wheel overcame the front. What I had not seen and had pretty much not considered was the short, concrete-filled steel post that marked the property line just in front of that bush. I slid right into it sideways and it threw me into the air. I can remember doing a mid-air somersault before landing on my right shoulder.
I screamed in pain and stayed on the ground crying after breaking my right collarbone. My neighbor, Emma heard me cry out and came running. She got me home, and then I was taken to the ER at Ball Memorial so they could fix me up.
I started 3rd grade with my right arm in a sling, and had to learn to write left-handed. That was a real struggle, but I got through it.
I had that bike until my dad repeated the process when I finished 7th grade in 1975. He got me a bright orange AMF 10-speed when I succeeded in passing through to 8th grade at Wilson Middle School.
My 10-speed got me through high school. Of course, it fell to second fiddle once I got my driver’s license, but still I rode it quite a bit…no helmet…no special shoes…no spandex. Sore butt and all. I can remember riding through the neighborhoods…to a friend’s house or to my youth minister, Neil’s house…listening to 990 WERK on the red AM radio that I bought at Radio Shack and mounted on the handlebars. I rode it so much that the frame eventually cracked around the pedal bracket, so I had to take it to the welding shop at 20th and Monroe to see if they could fix it. They welded it right up for me…no charge.
That bike disappeared sometime in the early 1980s. I kept it in my dad’s basement and would carry it out to ride it, then take it back in at night. In the winter, it would simply be stored down there until the weather broke. On a warm spring day, I’d drag it out, clean it up, pump up the tires, and lube the chain. Then, off down the road I’d go. That was the system year after year until one spring when I went down to drag out the bike and it was just gone.
It’s a mystery.
I don’t know if I left it out on the back sidewalk overnight in the previous fall and someone stole it, or if someone came all the way down into my dad’s basement to swipe it. Both seem unlikely to me…but one of them has to be true…’cause it was gone.
It would be another 15 years before I would take up cycling again. My wife and I got some Free Spirits from Sears when we first got married, but they were terrible bikes, so we got rid of them. Now, I ride a full-fledged road bike with all the gear…helmet, shoes, and yes….spandex. I love the sport, but don’t do it enough. I kind of long for those days when it was just easy and fun to jump on that Stingray and buzz down 21st Street…jumping ramps…racing friends….and pulling a cool side skid….keeping all bones intact.
Oh, those warm summer days with the wind in your hair….