When I was 7, possibly 8, Kent Baril and I were riding our bikes down the College Hill when we both wiped out at the same time on separate bikes in two separate spaces. There must have been a bunch of gravel on the road; I still don’t know what caused it. All I know is, I stood up and looked down to see that it had literally rained blood all over my clothes — spots of red everywhere.
Kent, who eventually turned out to have badly scraped his knee and elbow, got up and continued down to the tennis courts where his dad was. In the meantime — bear in mind this was Gunnison in the ’60s — a man, probably a college student, stopped his car next to me, loaded me and my bike in his back seat, asked where I lived, somehow interpreted “hor hwelve Hincup Rive” correctly and delivered me to my parents.
He vanished as quickly as he’d materialized, so we never learned who he was or found a way to thank him, but that was a later concern, because I was still dripping blood. Although my mother was very proud of me for not getting any on her new living room carpet.
It turned out I had split my chin open on the bottom bar of my bike, four stitches’ worth. It was more bloody than damaging — I even found blood spots on the underside of the brim of my ballcap — but it did serve the purpose of making me an overly cautious bike rider. (Not Kent, who probably to this day never hesitates to point anything, bike, motorcycle or skis, straight down a hill with great confidence and skill.)
This was the same bicycle on which, while learning to ride, I slipped and bit my tongue nearly through, leaving a raised scar that lasted until somewhere in my 40s. Despite these mishaps, I loved that bike, perhaps because it was so coveted by everyone in the neighborhood. All kinds of boys, big and small, borrowed it to pop wheelies, although this was not a trick I ever mastered myself. Too cautious.
Although my sister Terri had her own bike, she and I used this bike, whose name was Spike, to ride double for years. Until somewhere in my teens, when I “upgraded” to another Schwinn with a banana seat — but this one came with a five-speed shift lever on the frame, so I could shift just like a car. (Not really; all the gears went in a straight line, but this was sooo much cooler than a little lever on the handlebars.) I didn’t even care that it was white, since it came with a bright blue seat.
(I think Spike stayed in the family, and Terri and Tia became the ones to ride double. For parents who probably just grabbed a random first bike for their oldest kid, Mom and Dad did a great job.)
In my late teens I started working at the Bartsches’ gas station, and one of my co-workers liked to restore and build bikes. I don’t really know how good he was at it, because the ten-speed I bought from him for $100 didn’t really come with brakes, but that bike lasted me for easily a decade, or more.
Now, part of the reason this bike lasted so long was because I went to the University of Colorado in Boulder, where people were Serious about their bikes. Way back then there was a bike path that circled campus, but unless you were one of these Serious cyclists, you took you life in your hands if you ventured onto this. These cyclists rode at 35 or 40 miles per hour, and many of them came with no bike etiquette at all. There were few warnings they were coming, or planned to pass; they just blew right around me, leaving such a wake that I frequently veered precariously close to the bushes lining the path.
I quit trying to ride on the bike path.
The problem with taking a bike cross campus, though, was that there were a number of “dismount zones” where the foot traffic was so heavy you weren’t allowed to ride your bike. So instead of riding my bike to class, I was mostly pushing it. And then you had to locate a free space in a bike rack; lock your bike . . . it was taking longer than walking. I brought my bike home after my first semester and never took it back to school.
After I came home and got a job at the newspaper, I resumed riding it to work — until one day convinced me of the folly of that. I kind of laugh about this now, even though it’s a story with a very somber beginning.
My job was sports and schools (along with a little of everything else — it was a small paper), and on one tragic day a high school student was killed by his best friend, shot as the two of them were fooling around with an “unloaded” .22. I went looking for their baseball coach to get a comment (about the boy, not the accident), and first I was directed to the baseball field at the southeast corner of town.
He wasn’t there, so then I tried the high school on the west side of town. I don’t remember where else I went before I caught up with him, but I was worn out and feeling like I had wasted a lot of deadline time biking around town. I put the bike back in the garage and drove to work from then on.
Much later, after I became an avid bike commuter, I didn’t really think anything about riding from one end of town and back, which is why I laugh at myself now, although never at the situation that precipitated it.
Eventually the 10-speed disappeared, and I was bikeless — and thought I was happy about that — for many years.
Until the day I walked past Tomichi Cycles and saw a John Deere townie bike in their front window. It spoke to me; reached clear through the glass and said, “TL, you know you want me.”
Who would have thought my history with bicycles, which is hardly extensive, could take so many words? Not you, I’m sure, but I’ll have to be back some other day (tomorrow? Who knows?) while you are perched on the very edge of your banana seat, wondering what comes next. In the meantime, here’s a weird little cartoon I found yesterday.