Oct 19, 2014

Retro Bicycle memories - Part Two

Like many folks, bicycling holds a very special place in my heart.  Biking was my first taste of freedom and independence, and as we all know.. it's a sweet taste indeed.  Many people feel the same way about automobiles, and while I also loved my cars, bicycles just seem to have left me with more magical and wondrous memories.

I feel kind of bad for my kids in regards to biking. Mainly because they never got the chance to have rich and fulfilling experiences with their bikes, similar to the ones many adults my age experienced as kids.  Chock it up to a combination of things like where we live, and the state of society, but I wouldn't dream of letting my kids do half of the things I did back then.  The 1970's and 80's were simply a much different time.

I can't begin to count how many times my friends and I were gone from sun up to sun down, riding our bikes all day long across town and throughout the countryside.  We'd start out by getting up at the crack of dawn and packing lunches for ourselves which usually consisted of sandwiches, chips, and some sweets.  We'd stop by the gas station to get some bottled soda, and then it was off for a day of exploring and adventure.

On one such excursion, my best friend and I came up with the brilliant idea of spending a Saturday riding our bikes on railroad tracks in the country.  The prospect of doing something that to our knowledge, no other kids in our parts had ever attempted, excited us to no end.  The infinite amount of railroad track, as well as having no idea where it was going to take us, awakened the explorers within us.

We both had BMX bikes with big knobby tires, which served us well while "riding the rails" .  The ride was unbelievably bumpy and rough, and we had to ride at a pretty slow pace so as not to rattle our teeth loose.  Later in the day when the bumpy ride was starting to wear thin, we had no choice but to continue our journey, as everything else but the railroad track was covered in thick vegetation.   We had a blast for most of the day until late afternoon, when we learned exactly what saddle sores were.  I think we spent the last two hours of the day walking our bikes along the track, because we were too sore to sit down on them any longer.  Our hands and feet were tingling and numb from the pounding they took all day long.  We laid down to go to sleep that night and felt as if we were still shaking and bouncing even though we were laying perfectly still.  And talk about worn out!  I don't think I ever slept as sound as I did that night.

Some might not immediately see the fun and adventure in that story, but I assure you we had plenty of both along the way.  We did things like eating our lunch under a railroad bridge, stopping by streams just to watch the water roll by, and putting our ear to the railroad track to see if any trains were approaching from miles away.  We felt like the only kids on earth, and we daydreamed big.  We talked about how we would survive if we had to run away on our bikes in the event that the U.S. was invaded by some hostile force.  We wondered if we could build a river raft that we could ride all the way from Colorado to the Mississippi.  We pondered just how far we could make it across the U.S. on our bikes, if only our parents would let us try.

The sense of freedom we felt during our adventures was divine, and with good reason.  There were no ties to our home life and personal realities during these excursions.  We also had no electronic leashes like cell phones that mom and dad could use to check on us. We truly had a sense of independence and freedom, but still had the security of being able to go home at the end of the day.  There was no grind, or weight of the world to shoulder once we got back home.  We were kids going back home to be kids.  Talk about being totally worry free.  I'm not entirely sure I've experienced that feeling since I was a kid, nor do I know if I can ever come close.

As a boy, I viewed my bikes as a personal extension of myself, kind of how people view their cars.  I always took great pride in meticulously building and customizing each and every bike I owned.  When I got my first car at the age of fifteen, I carried my BMX bike in the trunk for about a year.  This of course was when car trunks had more square footage than your typical New York apartment.  I thought it was a great idea, because if my car broke down, I'd have a way to get back home.  But mostly I did it because I didn't want to feel like a total sell out.   Like so many of my other friends, I eventually ditched bikes all together, and began using my car exclusively as a more convenient means of transportation.

Fast forward to 2010 when I purchased my Schwinn Beach Cruiser.  Buying a retro bike is something that I wanted to do for several years, and doing so has yet to disappoint.  I got rid of my 21 speed mountain bike to make way for my retro red one speed cruiser.  I personally prefer slower paced bike rides where I can better enjoy the scenery and my surroundings.   Not to say that you can't do the same thing with road or mountain biking, but everything from the shifting of gears, to ergonomic positioning, were things I was personally never too fond of.  I wanted to get back to bicycling basics in the truest sense, and to me, that was going back to riding a one speed bike.  A few of my friends scratch their heads and still don't understand why I bought a one speed, but back in the day before multiple gear bikes were all the rage, one speed bikes were all everyone rode.

 My Schwinn freshly assembled right out of the box

My old man used to tell me stories about when he was a kid in the 1950's, and how he and his friends would ride their one speed Schwinn's and Hawthorne's all over Los Angeles California.  Not only that, they would ride for miles up the surrounding hills and mountains.  He mad many a trip from the Chino area, all the way up to the Prado River Dam.  He said they would ride until their legs felt like they were going to fall off.  But, as with any bicycle trip uphill, the payoff was the nice ride back downhill.  I rode up my share of hills and mountains as a kid as well.  There's nothing quite like the feeling of riding down a monstrous hill with a good stiff breeze blowing through your hair.  Mind you, I don't have quite as much hair for the wind to blow through these days.. but the sensation is still every bit as good as when I was a kid.

I must admit that building up my stamina to ride a one speed bike again after twenty four years wasn't easy, but it got less laborious with every ride I took.  I felt like my new Schwinn and I were made for each other, and had a blast putting some nice custom touches on her.

My Schwinn "Brunhilde" after some customization

Reminiscing about biking gets me excited as to what kinds of memories I will create to look back on in the future.  How about you?  Are you a bicycle enthusiast?  Do you have any great retro stories and memories from years past, or even recently?  If so.. I'd love to hear them!

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