My first bike was a Raleigh single speed I got when I was six or maybe seven. My parents bought it for me. It was red with gold lettering, had those old-fashioned swept back handlebars.
I learned to ride the Raleigh on the sloping driveway of the old, defunct country inn my folks rented after moving from the unelectrified, unplumbed cabin where I spent the majority of my early years. I remember climbing on the bike at the top of the drive, and I recall climbing out of the ditch at the bottom of the drive, bleeding and wailing, but I don’t remember anything in between. Hell no, I didn’t have a helmet. No one wore bike helmets back then. No one knew they were supposed to.
I finally figured out how to stop the damn thing without bleeding. This was a welcome development and ushered in a whole new era of freedom, just like a child’s first bicycle is supposed to. I rode that sucker all over the place, though of course my preferred route was the stretch of gravel road connecting the inn with the local country store, where one could still buy penny candy for a penny. I could always scrape together a few pennies.
I got to thinking about my old Raleigh the other day, when the clerk at the nearest convenience store mentioned to me that my boys had stopped in on their bikes this summer (probably trying to buy smokes, or maybe a case of Twisted Tea. I don’t know. I didn’t dare ask). He knows where we live. “That’s a long ways to ride,” he said, shaking his head. It’s actually only three miles, and the boys regularly ride much farther afield than that, but I since I didn’t really know what to say, I just nodded. “I guess it is,” I said, though I didn’t think it was a long ways, really. A kid oughta be able to ride his or her bike six miles roundtrip without it making an impression is what I think.
I can’t remember what my next bike was after that Raleigh, which I eventually broke in a catastrophic way by making ramps out of stacked firewood and a length of scrap lumber, and then repeatedly riding over them at a high rate of speed until I crashed or just got bored, at which point I probably rode back to the store for more penny candy. Remember those little rootbeer barrels? I liked to pack them between my cheek and upper gum, one on each side of my mouth. Let ’em slowly dissolve as I rode home.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I eventually became a halfway-decent competitive cyclist. Funny to think about now, but it’s true. I really liked riding my bike; sometimes, I rode 300 or more miles a week. I even wore those tight black shorts and ridiculous sunglasses. I rode up steep hills over and over and over again, because hills are often where races are won or lost. My weight dropped to 160-ish pounds; I weigh 185-ish now, and I’m not exactly a prime candidate for Weight Watchers, if you know what I mean. I could ride a bike pretty fast, but I sure wasn’t healthy.
Anyhow. That’s all for now.
Back to some music: The incomparable Townes Van Zandt doing Black Crow Blues