Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Chapter 8: We All Were Once All Bike Commuters Once

Laddy and Jake had many summers together before graduating high school.  It was around this time the two boys went their separate ways although cycling remained a part of their lives, in different ways.

While in college, Laddy didn't like walking across campus to class, and he detested asking for rides from other kids in the dorms.  Too many times he reached out for a ride to grab a bite to eat or for a lift to Wal-Mart.  Soon the responses seemed the same, "Dude, find someone else, a taxi, or get a bike.  Just stop asking me, ok?"

"No more asking for rides," Laddy told himself.  It was time he returned to what he loved and enjoyed; it was time he found a bicycle to tool around on.  After all he thought, "There are lots if kids here riding bikes."  He only needed to find some wheels, not a perfect bike, but one that could transport him to and fro to complete simple, daily tasks.  

Following this last rejection from his dorm room mate, who refused to "carry him" to work.  He immediately ran down to the coffee shop and grabbed the school's free newspaper, "what may be for sale or for trade," he thought.

Laddy flipped through the want ads, scrolling up and down the column, "Damn! Nothing."
His next move was online.  He pulled up the local craigslist and found what he needed, an inexpensive, older bike that had a rear rack and a handlebar bag.  There was only one problem; this "perfect" bike was a brakeless, single-speed, raspberry horror-show.  The color was cool with Laddy.  Bicycles that are painted unpopular colors didn't grab much attention, but a single speed bike without brakes, "that's a horse of a different color," he muttered to himself.

He called the number listed and haggled a bit on the price before seeing it live.  They agreed on $150.  The seller, an older fella, with a large scar across his forehead, and a dark tan had been a bike messenger in the city for a few years during the 1980's.  The raspberry monstrosity got him through many sticky situations and cost him little to maintain.  The old fella share a few stories about dodging cabs and buses, and the occasional police officer who scrambled at times to ticket the messengers for taking shortcuts on sidewalks or going the wrong way up one way streets.  The old guy smiled when he told Laddy his war stories.

Laddy asked him about the scar across his head.  The old messenger touched the scar on his head, and slowly said, "Oh my,"  and continued to rub his face, while smiling a bit.  "I got distracted while heading uptown."  He continued the story and his face turned red, "Yeah, I saw a beautiful young lady, and I couldn't help but look at her.  I forgot to watch ahead and flipped over the handlebars as the bike rolled into a deep pothole."  The seasoned messenger shook his head, "My bean took all the impact."  He concluded his tale of woe, "Always wear a helmet; keep yourself safe above all things."

 Laddy nodded in agreement, and asked about maintaining a single-speed bicycle.

The retired bike messenger said, "To be a successful messenger in NYC, you had to have a reliable bicycle with no downtime due to mechanical failure."  Pointing to  the raspberry nightmare, he laughed, "She doesn't look like much, but she was always got the job done, and she will do the same for you."

He reached out, pulled her off the hook on the ceiling of his garage; holding onto the headset, he rolled her over to Laddy and said, "Take her." 

She was beautiful.  The raspberry color was strange, even a bit effeminate, but with the slightly dirty white handle bar tape, drop bars, and a well broken in leather Brooks saddle, the raspberry horrow-show was a delight.  Laddy's heart beat with excitement to ride her.

Laddy did take her.    He handed over the $150 dollars and climbed aboard his new, yet well used, raspberry stallion.  He circled around a few times in the messenger's driveway.  Laddy fell in love instantly. He pedaled forward then backward.  The beauty of a single speed bicycle is its ability to move forward and backward, to apply the pedals simultaneously to balance the bike in a single place much like a helicopter hovering above a battlefield.  His heart beat faster still as he joyfully pedaled away.

The old messenger hollered, "Be careful going down hill, Laddy, you gotta back pedal REALLY HARD to slow her down."  Laddy raised his right hand and waved in acknowledgement and rode off into the sunset back to campus.  He thought about his first bike ride with Jake and recalled that summer night on the beach and the beautiful lady in blue.

Til next time,  Laddy and Jake will see you on the road.

My First Ride

Can you remember your first bicycle ride?  I can.  It was the summer of 1973.  My mom and dad bought me a two wheeler with training wheels.  The two wheels were made of hard solid rubber.  The seat was deep green and made of plastic; the frame was lime green.  It was ugly, but to a 4 year old it was beautiful.

My dad took me out to the backyard patio and started the process of holding on and letting go as I wiggled in the seat, tipped back and forth, and then, BAM, I actually pedaled unassisted for a few revolutions.  It was time to hit the street and go for distance w dad's help.  The Big Wheel was a toy of the past now.

I don't remember how long it took that day to go completely solo, but it couldn't have been too long since time flies when you're having fun.  It felt like I had my first three speed the next day.
Oh my, my first three speed.  My first "real" bicycle.  It was blue; it had a white banana seat.  The seat bar was tall, if it was two feet high it was five.  The handlebars were tall too, chopper like. The shifter sat in the center of the cross bar (the ball buster).  Wanting to be like Eval Kneval, I shifted all the time hoping to get just a little more speed.  The speed existed in my mind which raced up and down Hyman Ave always believing to be the fastest cyclist in the neighborhood.

What a feeling!  Doing things for the first time.  Riding all over the neighborhood.  Riding to grandma and grandpa's house or jumping on your bike, heading for the  5 & 10 for a pack of baseball cards was independence. Traveling by bicycle was the best experience a child could ever enjoy.

Any baseball cards I didn't want (usually Yankees cards), I placed onto the spokes with a clothes pin.  The card clicking against each spoke, faster and faster, click, click, click, made my three speed a motorcycle.  Zoom, I could go as fast as I wanted, as loud as I wanted.  The louder the rattle, the faster the bicycle spun.  Oh what fun.

Once dad let go of my Lightening Lime bicycle, he not only taught me the virtue of patience, but he taught me to trust my ability to accomplish the impossible.  Riding a two wheeler for the first time gave me a taste for adventure.  I could go anywhere, anytime.

Enjoy the adventure.  Til our next adventure, I will see you on the road.