As a young cyclist

My son Leo (3) has his first pedal bike. He has had a couple of push bikes and a balance bike, but Leo wants to ride with pedals.

How did I start to ride? My mom or dad could weigh in, but what I recall is my dad had a plastic carrier on the back of a frame. I’m not sure how much my dad rode, to be honest, as even when I had many bikes throughout my youth, I don’t remember him on a bike. When we went to ride Greenlake, for example, he’d be on roller skates.

Anyway, I grew up early on in Burien, on a little subdivision near the airport. I recall one important goal of my youth: To be able to ride before the age of 5.

I rode on borrowed Hot Wheels. I remember the huge front tires, and how the plastic would be whittled away, and in some cases worn through. There was a cul-de-sac where there was a bit of a hill and you could spin around and somehow there were ramps and whatnot to jump off of.

As for my actual first bike, I remember a training wheels bike. Red, perhaps? The training wheels were cheap white plastic, held on by metal brackets. I think mine were not attached well and eventually came off one day and I had to rely on balance to hold myself up.

Bicycling at around age 5-6 or so, I remember transitioning to my older sister’s red Schwinn. Actually, I’m not sure of the brand, but it was too large and had a big seat, big wheels, swept back handlebars with white plastic grips. It felt really awkward. I remember skinning my toes pretty badly one day, when I wore sandals foolishly, and dragged my feet underneath the pedals. There were probably way too many accidents to remember but I got plenty of pleasure out of riding anyway.

Where did I ride? I had a friend in the neighborhood, Trent. I rode to his place and back, which was a short walk, really. I don’t recall venturing out of there, as basically there was just one busy street outside of the subdivision on a steep hill.

For some reason I recall just riding alone. It wasn’t until my parents divorced and I moved to Seattle did I find somebody to ride with me. Did my sisters ride? I don’t really remember much with them. My oldest sister had a ten speed, blue bike with drop bars. I remember the story of when she rode one day ten times around Greenlake, and how impressive of a distance that was. (Maybe 28 miles?)

When I moved to N 6oth street, I rode to McDonald Elementary. At that time, it was no longer an Elementary, but maybe used as storage or a community center? Anyway, it had a really cool playground, with an interesting and expansive wooden structure. And nearby (in “Tangletown” which it wasn’t known for at the time) was a mini-mart with cheap candy, desserts, etc. Opening later was the Honey Bear Bakery, a produce stand, and later deli. North on Latona was (and still is) a mini-mart run by Koreans. A little further afield was Greenlake and its paths. And when I was older I would bike to N 50th, Meridian School, and play in its fields.

This was my known cycling universe as a kid. I rode the sidewalks and streets when no cars were around. I rode by myself. I discovered all the ways to ‘beat’ the hills, or all the side streets I could maneuver safely through. The idea, suggested by my parents, was that don’t count on cars to see you; to pretend you were invisible. So whenever a car would appear I would dart up somebody’s driveway onto the sidewalk.

Summer times, besides spending time on the computer, was also making the neighborhood rounds. I’d take money from my mom, go buy a sandwich or snack, and head down to Greenlake for the day.

I had no helmet until about Middle School. It wasn’t common in the early 90’s, but when I was moving further afield and my parents finally got me a red Fuji bicycle, it seemed appropriate. This was a Fuji; a serious bicycle from an actual bicycle store. My friend Jeremy was living about 2 hilly miles away, so well within bicycling distance, but there were lots of busy streets in between, but I rode anyway.

Luckily I have completely avoided accidents with cars and really only hurt myself. I rode my bicycle, for example, into a bunch of gravel off the Greenlake path and really scraped my legs. One time I flipped coming downhill into a surprise pothole on NE 65th Street, late at night, and bruised myself really badly on the road. (The street was finally repaved maybe 10 years after that? Seattle streets, especially those patched up over the ages, are not really safe to ride.)

As I made new friends throughout high school (Kevin, Ian, etc.) I rode further and further afield. There were some bigger hills, but really I didn’t go much further than a few miles from home until high school. High school senior year I had my biggest revelation when I participated in a bike to work rally in Westlake Center. I recall meeting my calculus math teacher and getting lots of free food and drinks. It was also awesome having him show me the route from Downtown Seattle to Garfield. And from then on I started riding by myself to school, which was about 6.5 miles each way.

It wasn’t every day, but it sure beat taking the bus.

Flipping through my high school yearbook, I also saw some pictures of the Lopez Island bike trip that Mr. Hudson would put on. I think I only did that two years, but it sure was a great trip. I recall them renting a great big moving van, they would stack the bicycles in there, then put a layer of plywood on top and stack more of them. Hopefully nobody’s handlebars were ruined.

Those trips to Lopez, I probably got just barely south of Lopez Village, no great feat. But the hills were pretty difficult and it was great fun finally riding on the road, not afraid of cars.

I had some ambitions past senior year for me and friends to ride from Seattle to La Push (160 miles). As I looked at the map, though, I realized I was no match for the distance. Fifty miles a day was inconceivable. Yes, I could ride from Seattle to Marymoor Park and back, but that was brutal. And so instead I planned a trip to the San Juan islands, which turned into a really great time. (That’s a separate post.)

Thinking back, really I was timid about the whole thing. I had to figure out cycling on my own. I really needed a mentor or somebody to ride with me, and my parents (post car accident) weren’t really riding much. I also could have used better equipment or better adjusted equipment, as I doubt I did much more than put air into tires or whatnot until things broke.

Now with kids, they will likely have ever advantage they may want (or not) as a cyclist. I’m not sure they are going to be into it, but I don’t really know of any alternative.

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About eliasross

Blogging before the word "blog" was invented.
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