Ah, the bicycle! What kid didn’t have one? Back when children actually participated in exercise (you know, that activity where your body parts actually went outside to do a multitude of sports?) most of us in the neighborhood had bikes.
As a toddler, I first had a tricycle, but my mom eventually donated it to the Goodwill. I remember being devastated when I noticed it was missing, like Orson Wells in “Citizen Kane” when his beloved Rosebud disappeared. Without wheels, I remember feeling very betrayed that my red tricycle was gone.
But a few years later, I got my first bicycle. Mine arrived on Christmas. I think it was an emerald green Schwinn with training wheels propped on the side of it. It was made of steel, which made it convenient for banging into curbs, cars, and trash cans. Both Teresa and I received one and I’m sure they were a major expense for a mother strapped with six children. Maybe she earned them with Blue Chip Stamps, who knows?
We used to speed up and down Pacoima Court in Studio City for hours, and along the sidewalks of Laurel Canyon and onto Laurel Lane. We didn’t have to worry about drivers texting and running us over. The sidewalks were ours to command, and we did so with grace and confidence.
Gradually, the training wheels would be raised, until we were riding on two wheels, with the trainers simply there for moral support.
There were so many popular bicycles during those times. Sting-Rays were one make I remember vividly. With their banana shaped seats, and high-rise handlebars, they evoked a sense of coolness for any bicycle owner. One of my neighbors had one, and I remember being very jealous. But they were also expensive, and not terribly practical, so no Sting-Rays for us.
Skateboards punctuated the time between cycling and trips to the gully, but the freedom of a bicycle to a kid was unparalleled.
When Teresa and I got into high school, we managed to convince my mom that bicycles for the two of us would be a good investment. I’m sure she thought we were nuts. What kid wants to ride a bike, especially wearing bell-bottoms? Grease on the pant legs was not something any parent would welcome.
Besides, wasn’t the pressure from us to get a car enough? But Teresa and I were both ecology advocates, and soon we were cycling our three-speed bikes along Ventura Blvd. to Colfax and up the street to North Hollywood High.
In college, I had a multitude of 10-speeds, which I rode through Isla Vista to UCSB. I used to ride to downtown Santa Barbara from time to time; a real excursion for this cyclist. These college bikes were so nimble, compared to the vintage wheels from my youth, but nothing compares to that first bicycle and the scrapes you endure while learning how to ride.