When I was 4, or thereabouts, I got my first bicycle. White with black and red trim, this 16-inch masterpiece of the BMX world had everything I needed: namely, the ability to lock the rear brake at high speeds. I eventually became a tire mark artist – the driveway of my childhood home serving as a palette for my work – as I perfected the straight-line and “fish tail” style of coming to a stop.
About the time my first bike’s tires were more than slightly thin, I received my second bike: another Huffy; another BMX. This one – a hand-me-down from an older cousin – would carry me nearly into my teens. I must have logged 100 miles and jumped 101 homemade ramps in the street, which always consisted of scrap lumber propped up with a piece of firewood.
This bike also played a role in my first brush with the law when a state trooper almost nailed me for riding without a helmet a month or so after lawmakers decided all children should wear one when on a bicycle. I remember that day vividly. I had abandoned my bike in the woods after riding away from the trooper. He found it 15 minutes after driving me home once I emerged on foot from my hiding spot in the brush, trying to play it cool as an 11-year-old out for a walk in the woods. (That’s believable.)
I was about 12 when I got my first mountain bike. What a gift this black-with-lime-green-cursive-lettering Huffy was. I did not let the street tires keep me from the trails, nor did I let them keep me from the streets once they were bald and covering tubes Dad had patched numerous times. My journeys on this thing alongside my buddies on theirs were some of my life’s greatest. Occasionally, we had legitimate destinations, such as school or downtown, but most of the time we rode just to ride.
At 14, I remember planning extensively with my best friend a bike ride across the country. All we would carry were sleeping bags, pup tents and backpacks of non-perishable food items. One day, my friend – who is now an engineer – offered a heartbreaking realization: it would take more than the two weeks we’d planned to ride a bike from New York to California and back. With maps spread across his bed days before we’d planned to leave, I pleaded my case for California and back, based solely on dreams and impossibilities. I eventually saw the truth, though, and we decided we’d turn around at Colorado. A day later, we had a similar discussion and agreed on Ohio. The next, Oil City, Pa. It went on like this until we settled on visiting some of my family near Rochester, N.Y. – a whopping 80 or so miles away.
We never took the trip. I got my license and a car the following summer. I don’t know what happened to that bike.