The Mono King

As a child, I did not want to be a fireman or an astronaut. Occupations such as stuntman or cattle wrangler had no interest for me. Doctor, teacher or electrician: these meant nothing. All I wanted was to ride my bike better than anyone had ever ridden a bike before.

As a child, I did not want to be a fireman or an astronaut.  Occupations such as stuntman or cattle wrangler had no interest for me.  Doctor, teacher or electrician: these meant nothing.  All I wanted was to ride my bike better than anyone had ever ridden a bike before.

It was no ordinary bicycle, but a Malvern Star dragster.  A dragster, also known as a ‘long frame low rider’, was the greatest bike ever built.  In fact, they were the only bike in the world with a built-in slouch.  The seat was as a long as a horse’s face and sticking out of the frame was a gearbox.  As important as my bike was to me, the gears were something of a mystery.  Whether the gearbox did, in fact, do anything at all or was purely for decoration, was never entirely clear.  It’s my firm view that, one year, the Tour De France should be conducted entirely on dragsters.

There were no buses, trains or trams where we lived.  It meant that the only form of transport that didn’t involve our parents were bikes.  We would take off up the gravel driveway at great speed, winding our way past the potholes in an attempt to gather as much momentum as possible.  Luckily, our drive way was around a kilometre long and riding from one end to the other was a source of near-endless fascination.

Save for the odd sticker wrapped around its frame, my dragster was largely unadorned.  Others, however, made all kinds of modifications.  Chief amongst these was the addition of a florescent orange flag attached to the seat.  It would bob behind the rider like a bird as they pedalled furiously away.  The other key alteration involved putting something between the spokes to create an engine-like roar.  Of course, the results sounded less like an engine than they did a cat’s purr, but it allowed us to make believe that our bikes had been transformed into motorcycles.

Motorbikes were, according to my father, only ridden by lunatics.  My father’s stridency was undermined by the fact that our favourite television show at that time was ‘CHiPs’.  Ostensibly, ‘CHiPs’ stood for ‘Californian Highway Patrol’ and starred Eric Estrada as Francis ‘Ponch’ Poncherello and Larry Wilcox as ‘Jon’.  It was the kind of TV show whose objective was largely magical in that it sought nothing more than to make an hour disappear.  When I think about it now, it’s remarkable how little seemed to occur.  Of course, in Australia we also had our own motorcycle-riding police officer in the form of Paul Cronin as ‘Solo One’.  Set in the Dandenongs, it ran only for thirteen episodes during which Paul tried to figure out why he wasn’t on Matlock Police anymore.

Eventually, the era in which dragsters roamed the earth came to an end upon the introduction of the ‘bicycle motor cross’ better known as ‘BMX’.  These bikes were not inspired by Jon, Ponch or even Paul Cronin but by motor-cross riders.  The whole point of these bikes was to ride them at speed through terrain littered with obstacles.  It suited us perfectly.  Suddenly, our dragsters were as cool as the flared trousers we had once worn whilst riding them.  From this point on, it was all about BMX.

You didn’t just ride a BMX bike. The bike was an extension of your body and you were expected to be able perform a range of stunts, such as the ‘bunny hop’ or the ‘pogo’.  However, by far the greatest thing you could on a BMX bike was a ‘mono’.  ‘Pulling a mono’ involved using your weight to lean away from the handlebars, which lifted the front wheel.  It is the fact that you are then travelling on only one tyre that constitutes a ‘mono’.   Some may call such a manoeuvre a ‘wheelie’, but we knew them strictly as ‘monos’.  With monos much as with life itself, there is the risk that you may overdo things and end up flat on your back for your troubles.  My attempts were always doused in caution and, inevitably, my monos were quite feeble.  I longed for more.

We would see them on trips to the milk bar with our parents.  Delinquents would gather as mosquitoes around a blue-light insect zapper, sitting astride their BMX bikes, nonchalantly necking Choc-orange Big M and generally making a nuisance of themselves.  Dressed in a duffel coat and desert boots, their leader would ride back and forth out the front of that milk bar, front tyre raised continuously in what seemed to be an everlasting mono.  His chrome BMX shone like a new set of teeth and he seemed in control of so much more than just his bike.  I envied him then.  As to what happened to that guy, I couldn’t say.  Whether pulling a mono is as useful a skill as an adult is anyone’s guess. 

Heaven knows, we need him now – bikes today are more popular than ever but there’s nary a mono to be seen.  As for me, I think I preferred it when bikes were a means of escaping from your parents.  Even now I can picture him, still out the front of the local milk bar; older but steadfastly none the wiser, Choc-orange Big M in hand.  He remains in my mind untouched by the decades, forever the Mono King. 

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