Lately, as I have been getting out on my bike more, I have been thinking about the feeling of freedom that I get from riding. I love thinking back on my first memories on a bike when I was growing up. Whenever I climb on a bike I know that those memories formed the enjoyment I take now in riding.
I was fortunate to grow up in Edmonton, Canada, a city that grasped early on what an advantage a bike/bus infrastructure could have for its citizens. It’s a fairly small city, but it boasts a huge trail system and a wide array of bike routes to access those trails. Having those kinds of resources available in a city that was fairly safe to travel around meant that a kid with a bike could get pretty much anywhere they needed to go (at least in the summer).
My first bike was blue. It had a banana seat and coaster brakes. I attached “spokey dokeys” to the spokes so that it made a happy plinky sound when I rode it. I can still remember the exact moment when my Dad let go of the handle on the back of the banana seat and I was riding on my own. Freedom was no training wheels, and suddenly I could ride the whole length of the block without stopping!
It was the early 80′s and the BMX bike rose to power among children at the time. My parents got me one and it was my first exposure to a bike that had a hand brake. You could ride a BMX almost anywhere, so sidewalks weren’t necessary anymore, and with its rugged frame you could drop it pretty much anywhere if the need to play came upon you. Freedom was confidence in your bike, knowing it could take you places!
As the 80′s drew to a close the mountain bike was coming onto the scene, and bikes with gears were all the rage. How many gears your bike had was a status symbol, and I saved my money up for an 18-speed mountain bike from Consumers Distributing. I remember it being huge, I could barely stand over it when I got it, but it lasted me all the way through high school. This bike really made the river valley trail system in Edmonton available. There are some steep hills going into and out of the valley, so the gears got put to good use. This was my first exposure to saddle soreness as I increased the length of my rides. One park in particular was always a favorite destination, at the edge of my boundaries, 7.5 miles from my home. Freedom was the whole park system, and bike rides could last through much of the long summer days!
With happy memories come some regrets, and it is for my fourth bike that I feel the most loss. This was my first bike purchased at an actual bike store. It was a Giant Sedona mountain bike with 21 speeds and the newest “grip shift” technology. I rode this to and from university for a good couple of years but I was hard on it and at some point it started slipping gears when I was trying to put the pedal down. Eventually the chain broke, and the tech at the bike store gave me the bad news that replacing the chain was not going to solve the problem. The cassette had been worn down by the worn chain and now the bike would slip gears even with a new chain. I could not afford a new cassette, so with only the new chain and an unreliable drivetrain my bike fell into disuse and ended up on the balcony of our first apartment. A cycling friend of mine ended up fixing it up for me as a birthday present, but by then the rift between my bike and I had grown and it was just too much hassle to take it out. Eventually, when we moved to California we put the bike on our patio as we had no room in our small apartment for all the boxes. The next morning when I looked outside the bike was gone, I can only hope that it went to an owner more appreciative of it than me.
The happy ending to this story is that after 10 years of having no bike to call my own I found this little beauty. It is a 1992 Marin Limited Edition road bike, with all the original components. The lime green color was just the frosting on an already awesome cake. When I first got on this bike I was blown away by how quickly a bike like this can move. Suddenly, a 14 mile commute to work seemed possible with this bike, and moreover it was perfect for taking out for a ride on weekends. Quite a bit has changed on this bike since I got it, and a lot of me has changed as well. One thing has stayed the same: when I get on my bike I am reminded of all the bikes before this and how each brings the same feeling of freedom. Each time I push off from my driveway it is like my Dad is there letting go of my saddle and I am riding without training wheels for the first time. Each time I stop I am squeezing the brake of my first BMX. When I shift I think of the first bike I ever had with gears. And every trip is an adventure, a test of how far I can go on my own two wheels.