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
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
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
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