On your bike. For years, the invitation to stand astride a two-wheeled piece of transportation and trundle off over the horizon meant nothing to me. That’s because I was bike-less. It’s not as though I swore them off or took a vow to abstain from riding; it’s more than I never quite got around to it. That, however, has now changed.
Maybe it’s just me, but there are heaps of things that were once an essential part of my life that, for whatever reason, I stopped and, for no reason in particular, I haven’t gone back to. Riding a bike is but one example. Others include slippers, sugar bowls and tablecloths. That I have managed to survive successive decades without these things is a tribute, I think, either to my resilience or my aptitude for turbo-charged procrastination.
My childhood was defined by three bicycles. The first was tiny – the kind you expect to see ridden by a monkey at a circus. At some point it would have had training wheels until the day arrived where these were deemed to be surplus to requirements. Whether it was because I had finally garnered sufficient confidence to ride without them or I felt the other twelve year olds would keep teasing me the longer I kept using them, I can’t say.
As the eldest of five, most of my possessions were redirected to one of my siblings. I’m not sure what became of my training wheels. Did they pass through the line of succession before coming to an ignominious end at the local tip? Or has my father squirreled them away and, someday without warning, will he ask me whether I still want them? The training wheels are, I suspect, somewhere in the shed. It’s an observation that can be made about most objects in the known Universe.
I probably had that bike for too long. It’s embarrassing when your bicycle is so small that you can use your own toes as bike rack. But when time finally came for it to be replaced, it was followed by a gargantuan, lumbering mechanical marvel. It was a dragster. Nothing says ‘nineteen seventies’ quite like a dragster bike. Except, of course, flares, lengthy sideburns and the first three albums by the Electric Light Orchestra. High handlebars, long ‘banana seat’ and gears that were largely decorative in nature, the dragster was the two-wheeled equivalent of the kind of station wagon so lovingly championed by Carol from the Brady Bunch.
I didn’t so much ride my dragster as I cruised. Up and down the driveway, my flared trousers flapping like the mainsail of an ocean vessel, I cruised looking for something (anything) to relieve the boredom. If the nineteen seventies were about anything, they were about being bored out of your brain whilst waiting for your parents to turn up in a Brady-sized station wagon before they strapped you into a vinyl seat that was so hot that it rivalled the surface of the sun; then scalded you with a seatbelt buckle. Those were the days.
But whereas the seventies were plagued by station wagons, stagflation and disco music, the eighties were a time when anything seemed possible. It was a decade of adventure. Of timeless movies and chronically dated fashion (hello massive shoulder pads and acid wash!). Of teen culture and big pop songs and even bigger hair. It was an era in which a dragster was about as relevant as a Triceratops and just as aerodynamic. Clearly, it was a time for a new bike. It was time for a BMX.
More than just a bicycle, a BMX was a lifestyle choice. Kids were often shown using their bikes to challenge authority and perform amazing deeds in generation-defining movies like ‘E.T.’ and ‘BMX Bandits’ (why Judy, PJ and Goose haven’t been featured on their own postage stamp or commemorative coin by now is totally beyond me). The great thing about a BMX is that it didn’t need a smooth path like a dragster. It could go anywhere. And it did. We used to race ours around the yard and perform ‘jumps’ by launching ourselves from modest ramps we constructed out of dirt (sorry for the holes in the lawn!). It felt daring at the time. (Monos! Bunny hops!) It probably was.
Then I left home. And I never owned a bike (or a sugar bowl) again. Perhaps the nineties weren’t a bike-loving era. Maybe there was confusion as to what kind of bike to get, now that BMXs were considered a relic from a bogan era (so to speak). Whatever the reason, I no longer had a bike to call my own. The BMX was left to languish in the shed, next to my training wheels and the plaster cast I had when I was six and broke my leg (you never know – it may still come in handy).
Then came the awkward bit. For some time, I owned a helmet but no bike. Consider it something of a statement of intent. But as of last week, I’m now the proud owner of a bike to go with the helmet. It doesn’t have training wheels and it’s not a dragster. It doesn’t look anything like a BMX. It’s a hybrid. Naturally, I’m nervous. It’s been a long time since I’ve ridden one of these things, but the guy who sold it to me said not to worry; that it was as easy as riding a bike. We’ll see.