My First Bike     
by J Pinsent

I had three bikes in my life, so far. My first when I was 9 years old, the second when I was 14, and the third when I retired. It wasn't that my parents were mean or cruel and didn't buy me a new bike every other year. For starters they couldn't afford it and I didn't need a bike. I could travel faster without one. You couldn't ride bikes on railway tracks or through my many shortcuts through the woods. Riding a bike meant I had to travel the roads. I hated roads.

I started riding bikes when I was 6 or 7 by borrowing those from the older kids. These were adult bikes and for a little kid, because of their size, were very difficult to ride without some ingenuity. Girls bikes didn't have cross bars so you just stood on the pedals and pedaled as hard as you could. With the male bike you had to hunch down and get half way under the crossbar with your torso in the shape of an S in order to pedal and stretch your arms up to reach the handle bars. More often than not, riding in this manner led to the occasional accidental upset and a skinned knee or elbow. Scabby knees and elbows were the badges we wore without question. No doubt, girls bikes were best suited for us little kids but they were scarce. But none the less, I learned how to ride a bike.

My parents must have observed me torturing myself trying to ride those bikes. Because on my 9th birthday, they gave me a bike small enough that I could ride but there was a hitch. It wouldn't arrive till after the snow melted. My birthday being in March meant a bit of a wait.

The appliance department for Goodyear's was located in their store on Foss Ave along with the canteen and supermarket. The appliance department also carried bicycles and that was where my bike would be delivered. Mr. Cheeks (Bill) ran the department and he was aware of my aggravated wait for this bike. He was a friend of my father and was thoroughly briefed on the situation. Every day I would check in with him. "Is my bike here yet?" was the standard daily question. Finally, after lunch one day, on my way back to school, I check in. Mr. Cheeks tells me my bike had arrived. I was so excited. He tells me he is in the process of putting it together and it would be ready by the time school finished that day. He was as excited as I was.

I could hardly sit still in my seat that afternoon. Not that I ever sat still but I was more hyper today. The bell rang, school was out and I headed for Goodyear's. In through the door I rush looking for my bike. There it was. A shinny, dark blue, Hercules bike. A thing of beauty. Not quite as small as I had expected but smaller than the adult bikes. Mr. Cheeks picked me up and sat me on the seat. I can barely reach the pedals. He sort of looks at me and asks if I'm sure I can ride it. What a stupid question. Of course I can ride it. He lowers the seat as far it can go. When the pedals are both horizontal, I'm ok but when they go vertical, I can barely touch the bottom pedal with my toe. I figure if I push down hard enough on the top pedal that will bring up the bottom pedal, I finally convince him I can ride the bike. He picks up the bike and brings it outside.

He stands the bike parallel to the wooden step leading into the store. I swing my leg over the seat while standing on the step and sit quite comfortably into the seat. He gives a gentle push and off I go. The area in front of the Goodyear's Canteen and the main door of the drill hall is a combination of pavement and concrete. The bike just rides so smoothly over the surface. No potholes like on the army side roads. I circle around the area while Mr. Cheeks supervises. I tried to leave the seat and just stand on the pedals but my legs were not long enough. With the cross bar against my groin it was just too painful, I had to sit on the seat. Just the same, everything was working out, a hard push down, the lower pedal rises, I lean to the side and hook my toe into the pedal to raise it higher, then down hard to get the next cycle to continue. It is working perfectly.

"Be careful riding home" says Mr. Cheeks, going back into the store, as I still keep going around in circles. A cold feeling comes over me. I have never mounted or dismounted a bicycle before. How in the hell am I going to get off this thing? This is the first time I have ever ridden a bike while sitting on a seat. Now that I am riding, everything is ok. I'll worry about dismounting later. Quickly I have to come up with a mental "flight plan" home. My nationalization at this point in time is beyond reason with all this excitement. I decide to go up through the green lane towards Chestnut St., down towards the hospital; up to the main road by Newhook's and down to the army side eventually, staying all the time on paved roads.

Not a wise decision. There is an intricate anti bike riding gate at both ends of the lane. A sort of a wooden zig zag affair that you certainly couldn't ride a bike through. The idea of the gate being to push bikes through, to protect pedestrian traffic. I figured the gate was for big bikes and with this miniature bike I could do it. Wrong. I approached the zig zag gate in a manner that would allow me to turn quick enough to avoid a collision with the wooden posts. This became my new bike's first encounter with a solid object. My handle bar ended up just a little bit wriggled and there was a slight dent in the front fender. I did manage to stay seated and I wiggled myself around the gate but there was one more gate to go, at the other end. This gate I approached with a little more caution but I had to struggle to get through and remain upright in the seat.

Finally I was out of the lane, on across Chestnut St onto Churchill St. traveling towards the hospital. I was approaching the heating plant when I see this car coming towards me. I panic, hit the brakes, came to a complete stop, and I fall over into the ditch. Skinned out my hand but that's okay. Just a slight scratch along the frame of my bike. My problem now was, how to get back up and riding again. I have no idea how to mount the thing. I push my bike over to a building near by that had a wooden step. Propped my bike up and mounted the bike from the step, pushed off with my foot and I'm on my way again. I pass the Globe Theater, no cars are on the street so I finally relax, this is not so bad after all. I pass Building 50 about to make the turn by the hospital up toward the main road when this sudden urge to take a short cut comes over me. Going via the main road would mean a smoother ride over pavement but a longer way to go and for sure, more cars. Option 2 is straight down over the field to intercept the main road at the railway tracks. Just an old gravel road, not too smooth but I could do it. I leave the pavement towards my new short cut. My front tire hits a rut, I lose control and fall again. This time I am more prepared. No injuries but my bike had another dent and the front fender had become a little loose. No buildings nearby with a step to remount but I see a large rock just down a ways. It will do to use as a step. Works perfect. I am up and on my way again. The fender starts to rattle a bit but that's ok. My confidence is growing with every upset.

I finally intercept the main road leading towards the army side but the angle that I approach is exactly the same as where the rail crossing is located. My front wheel jams between the rail and the wooden slats of the rail crossing area and I go flying threw the air and land along side of the road. This time my pants are torn and I think maybe I might have skinned out my knee. I look up and there is my bike standing upright. The front wheel is stuck between the rail and the road. What started out to be fun is not fun any longer. This bike is starting to piss me off. Here I am, no step or rock to aid me getting back up, I hurt, my bike is a mess and I still have a ways to go before I get home.

I dislodge my bike from the tracks and start to push it towards home. I am really upset. I wish I could mount this thing. How do they do this any way. They hold the handle bars, put one foot on the pedals, get the thing moving and swing the other leg over. Just like cowboys mount their horses. So I try. It's just not working. It doesn't feel right. Then I try the other side. This is a little better. I have one foot on the pedal and with my other foot just pushing along while keeping the bike balanced. Its going to work, I think, I swing my leg over the seat, then I'm up, the bike is weaving all over the place but I keep my balance and then, I did it. I was up and riding and I did it all by myself. The front wheel was a bit wobbely from running into the railway track but I could still steer pretty good. My spirits were lifted. I still didn't know how to get off but again, I would worry about that later.

I really started to get pumped up. All the guys would see me riding into the army side on my new bike. Taking the turn in front of Lush's Canteen, I sort of lost control and went straight into a fence. This time I didn't hurt myself but tore off one of the brake hand levers form the handle bars. I could see our apartment from here so I decided, discretion being the better part of valor. I would walk my bike home.

The reception I received by my parents was not what I had expected. My mother was besides her self when she found out I had rode a bike all the way from the Canadian side. "Where did you learn how to ride a bike?" she scolded me. My father was furious when he got home. My bike was practically demolished. He wasn't mad at me but at Mr. Cheeks for giving me the bike without any supervision.

My bike was later repaired and my dad made up some wooden pedal lifts that would give me that extra 2 inches I needed to ride properly. It didn't take too long to master the art of mounting and dismounting. I also learned some new short cuts where my bike could go.

I managed to get one more summer out of that bike before it was demolished because of my reckless disregard for personal property. My next bike I bought with money I had saved, when I was fourteen. I had a lot more respect for my bike this time plus now we had moved into the new town and I ran out of short cuts. My third bike was a used one I bought after I retired. That one lasted about a year before it was stolen. Bikes? Who needs 'em.



Morley & I