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Learning to ride a bike

Updated on April 26, 2011

My coming of age


When I was young, the first real rite of passage I encountered was learning to ride a bike.  Oh, sure, there was potty training, first words, and the first day of school, but those were parental things, and not really too exciting for children.  At least not for me.  But, as a kid, I do remember being anxious about the prospect of learning to ride a bicycle - all by myself.  Tricycles were kind of fun, but not very challenging, and certainly a toy for younger children.  Any kid who wanted to progress in his growth, and within his peer group wanted to learn to ride a bike.  For me, this presented a bit of a challenge. 

I suppose training wheels are nice, but I do not remember many kids in our neighborhood either having them or using them.  They were considered “sissified” at best, especially if you were older than, say, “three.”  At age six, a kid could get beat up for even looking twice at a bicycle with training wheels.  If you added in those streamers that flowed out the end of the handle bars, and some color like “pink,” there was a good chance that first grader would never see the second grade. 

Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about training wheels.  We did not have money for such frivolous things even if we wanted them.  I did, however, have to worry about my first bike being a “girl’s” bike.  Since most things we kids got were hand-me-downs, and most seemed to come from women, (I wore girls’ snow boots for a time in the first grade), there was a good chance any bike we got would be designed for female usage.  I was right.  The “community” bike we were given to learn to ride on was, indeed, a hand-me-down, and, indeed, designed for female riders.  At that age, I really did not understand why the girls’ bikes had that bar removed that went between the brace for the seat and the brace for the handlebars on boys’ bikes.  It made more sense to me to remove it for the guys, not only to facilitate mounting the device, but also to protect that which God gave boys between their legs that girls were lacking. 

Like some Medieval torture device, that bar sat poised waiting for that one false move, that bump, that sent the male rider off the seat and down, spread eagle, to a crushing and abrupt stop.  In that instant, it was as if Satan, himself, had reached up through the asphalt and grabbed the unsuspecting rider by the crotch.  If you have experienced this, you know what I am talking about.  If you have not, you don’t want to.  Why, in all their wisdom, would the people they trusted give such a thing to the young men they cared for?  Whether its actual function was intended, or just an accidental coincidence, every boy who ever rode a bike knows about the bar, knows what it means, and knows what he doesn’t want to have happen.     

Another problem I had learning to ride was that all the hand-me-down bikes we had were full-sized, and kind of difficult to mount and dismount for people of short stature as first graders tend to be.  The girls’ models alleviated that situation, but they also created the problem for boys who did not want to be seen riding a girls’ bike.  My Uncle Al once tried to work on behalf to mediate that situation by picking up a smaller, sidewalk bike that was more my size, designed for boys, and just for me.  I don’t know where he got it, but it was definitely used.  I didn’t care  It looked to me as beautiful as the finest 10-speed, and I could almost hear my “family jewels” scream their approval when I saw it.  The “used” condition did later turnout to be a problem, even though I was pretty used to everything “new” I got just really being “new to me.”  In fact, the condition of the bike became an issue the very first time I tried to ride it.  I barely had the bike out of the garage and through the back gate by the incinerator when I tried to mount it, and take off down the alley.  Immediately, if not sooner, the front fork gave way, the front wheel came off, and I went head over heels across the handlebars and on to the unforgiving surface of the concrete alleyway.  Now, when I think back on it, I realize I was actually very lucky, despite finding  myself back at square one in the quest for two-wheeled transportation, but I did not think so at the time.  I knew I was in trouble. 

No, it was no fault of my own, and, no, there was absolutely nothing I could have done to change the eventual outcome, but that did not matter.  I had broken something that was given to me as a gift, and that meant I was in trouble.  

Now, imagine what could have happened to me, my face, and my teeth after falling face first on to concrete, even though I don’t remember receiving much more than a few scratches and abrasions.  Nevertheless, when the broken bike was reported to adult authority figures, do you think even one inquired as to the well-being of my body parts?  No.  Not one.  Instead, the resulting tirade was more along the lines of a culpatory summation laid down by an Ecclesiastical council of elders.  Why did you do that?  Can’t you take care of anything?  Well, what are you going to do now?  I’m just fine.  Thank you for your concern.

In all fairness, I was all boy, and, in fact, I had a reputation for taking things apart just to see how they worked.  That isn’t so bad, but, the truth be told, even I knew I was much better at disassembly than I was at putting things back together - I was more destroyer than creator.  And, in this instance, even though I had never attempted anything that would even hint of a desire to follow in the footsteps of Evel Kneivel, it was made clear that was exactly what they thought I had been doing.  Whether the bike could be fixed or not is irrelevant.  I never saw it again.  I managed to learn to ride, nuts intact, without it. 

To this day, if anyone still remembers that incident, I’m certain I am still held entirely at fault.  Even though I know I am innocent, God knows I am innocent, and any witness to the event knows I am innocent.  As for my accusers, I forgive them.  I forgive them both for choosing not to believe the truth, but also for engaging me in a sadistic game of Russian Roulette with a structurally inadequate playtime device.  As it turned out, my Guardian Angel was again watching over me, and keeping me from harm’s way, and, for that, how can I not be thankful?  Likewise, I am also thankful for those adults who tried to help me have all the things in my childhood that other children had.  Yeah, that bike could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t, and after all, they just had my best interests at heart when they gave it to me.  I learned to ride, and was later actually given bikes that stood up to my reputation, and, on top of that, I got a great story to tell as well. 


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