The prompt for the Chatham Memoir Group was to write about bicycles, or your first bike. Mine was similar to the one pictured above. My memoir follows.
My First Real Bicycle
I was astonished when I realized I have no memory of my first bicycle. I am assuming I had one with training wheels, but maybe I didn’t. I know I had a tricycle, only because I’ve seen a few black & white Polaroids of me sitting on it or standing next to it. At the time, we lived in an apartment on a busy street and I may have ridden it in the driveway of that place. The photos of me on the trike were taken in my grandparent’s back yard, so I suspect that is where I spent most of my time riding it. There are also a couple of photos of my brother, Ken, sitting on the trike. Also in my grandparent’s back yard. I guess that was his first wheeled vehicle as well. But I don’t remember my beginners two wheeler. There are no photos of me on a bike with training wheels. I was growing so fast at that time, I may have been too tall for a starter bike.
I do, however, remember my first real bike, an official big kids bike. My uncle’s good friend Ronnie didn’t ride his bike much anymore. They were in high school, they were cool. Ronnie, very flashy and charismatic, was the coolest of the cool and was the type of person who would transition from a bike to a Pontiac GTO. At any rate, through a series of transactions involving Ronnie, his parents, my uncle and my parents, I became the second owner of Ronnie’s bike.
I may have been a big kid for my age, but this bike was huge! It stood about 16 hands high, about the size of a Clydesdale, or so it appeared to me. After all, I was just entering first grade and Ronnie was in high school. The bike I was gifted was a Roadmaster. Red and white, the bike boasted chrome fenders, a big chrome and red striped tank which coursed along the frame from handlebars to just under the white seat. Chrome traps to carry things rested above wide white-wall front and rear tires and a chrome bell with an American flag affixed to the chrome handlebars were the options the bike dealer must have thrown in when it was purchased. Oh, I am forgetting the red and white streamers that flowed out of the white vinyl handlebar grips. That was odd, Ronnie didn’t appear to be a “streamers” kind of guy.
As I mentioned earlier, this bike was huge. So huge, in fact, my feet didn’t reach the pedals. My dad corrected that by affixing an adapter kit to them. The adapter kits consisted of blocks of wood of varying sizes that would get clamped to the pedals to close the distance between them and your feet. I think my dad had to double them up so I could reach the Roadmaster’s pedals. I had not inserted the word “proud” before owner. For their first bikes, most of my friends had gotten the sleek and stylish Schwinn models which were the rage at the time. I had this bright, shiny relic of the most recent past as my first ride. The Roadmaster was the Duesenberg of bicycles. Did I say there was a lot of chrome? At any rate, this was my first real bike, the one on which I learned to ride.
Before learning to ride, I learned how to fall. And I fell a lot. I got to be really good at it. The bike was so big, so heavy, and with a lumber yard for pedal extenders, it proved to be unwieldy. With the knowledge that I had to keep some degree of forward momentum to not fall while making a turn, the bike was so heavy, I needed to pedal faster than normal to make a turn. As one might guess, most of my falls occurred while in mid-turn. I had to ride with friends because took 2 or 3 kids to lift the Roadmaster from my scraped and bloody body. If I had to ride alone, I carried a small scissors Jack in the rear trap and used it to lift the bike high enough for me to crawl out from under it.
I remember how proud I was the first time I made a turn without falling. A crowd had gathered to watch my inaugural cruise. My parents, my uncle, my grandparents my Godparents, all bade me well. They watched me climb the slight incline of Echo Place, make the turn – not a smooth turn – but I didn’t fall. I had a big smile, everyone was waving. As I started to roll down the hill and gain speed, I tried to brake and slow my momentum. This bike didn’t have hand brakes, I had to push back on the pedals to slow and stop. I began to brake, but one of my feet rolled of the stack lumber affixed to the pedal. It threw my balance off and my front wheel began to wobble. I was able to stop by crashing into the side of a car and falling to the ground. I don’t remember how I got out from under the Roadmaster, maybe a passing crane driver took pity and lowered his hook to lift it off, my memory of that is vague.
I went through a growth spurt which allowed the stacks of wood to be removed from my pedals. As I began to grow into the Roadmaster, I removed the streamers from the grips. To make my battleship of a bike cooler, I clamped baseball cards to the front and rear forks with a clothespin so the spokes would hit the cards. It made my bike sound like a Harley. The Pittsburgh Pirates had beaten the New York Yankees in the World Series, so I exacted revenge by using the cards of Pirate players as my noise source. I mastered the road on a tank of a bike, with streamers and lots of shiny chrome, the Roadmaster, my first real bicycle.
The Chatham Memoir Group
January 27, 2023
4 thoughts on “My First Real Bicycle”
Great piece, Ernie. Especially liked your use of lumber, scissors jack, and crane. I too had a Roadmaster with playing cards clothespinned to the fender struts and an aircraft carrier over the rear wheel. What a beauty!
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Thank you John! Those Roadmasters were tanks!
I give you so much credit for riding with the wood block extenders on the pedals.
It sounds like you had a lot of fun riding it.
I enjoy these childhood memories.
Thank you Nancy! I eventually did have fun riding that tank of a bike. It was actually a better bike than my second one, a three speed AMF that had a number of issues.