A New Bicycle or Wheel as the Old Timers Called Them
A New Wheel?
For many of us "baby boomers" our first bicycle and learning to ride it are memories we cherish. I was nine years old and one Saturday morning my daddy allowed me to go with him to town. It was a rare treat to get tag along while he paid bills or stopped in at the local Western Auto for something he needed. I loved going into Dan Barber's Western Auto in Hendersonville, North Carolina. There was so much for a young boy to see. I had looked many times at the little circulars that had been placed in our local paper and there were the Christmas catalogs sent in the mail that created a lot of interest, we called them "wish books" because we knew just wishing didn't cost any money.
It had been raining earlier and some leaves from the trees along main street had fallen onto the sidewalk making the sidewalk slippery. An elderly lady walking down the street and had suddenly slipped and fallen right in front of the bench we were sitting as daddy talked to an old friend. I remember the sound of her body as she fell face first onto the side walk. She was a large woman and fortunately she didn't seem to have suffered any great injury. Daddy quickly helped her to her feet and ask if she was hurt. "I think I'll be alright," was her reply as she straitened her sweater and adjusted her spectacles as she slowly proceeded on her way down the street. I think she might have been more embarrassed than hurt.
While we sat on the bench a man who had been inside the Western Auto came up to us and ask my daddy. "Can I borrow your boy for a few minutes? He looks to be about the same size as my son and I'm gonna buy him a new bicycle. I just want to see if the bike I picked for my son is a suitable size." My dad agreed to allow me to go inside the Western Auto with this man to test the bicycle. I was excited because I didn't have a bicycle of my own and just getting to sit on a brand new bike was a big thrill even if the one I would sit on that morning wouldn't ever be mine.
As it turned out the bike was a 24 inch Western Flyer and it just fit my frame and the man bought the bike for his son. From that morning, I knew I just had to have a Western Flyer of my very own. I ask daddy if he would get me one just like the one I had sat on in the Western Auto. Daddy wouldn't say yes or no but even at the age of nine, something as expensive as a bicycle would be only a dream for me. My daddy was a cotton mill worker and the mill had just undergone a transition. It seemed all I could think about was that maroon bicycle and how much I wanted one.
Some kids in the cotton mill village had bikes and even rode them to our elementary school and there was a special rack for parking their bicycles near where the teachers and buses parked. At recess I would look at those bikes and yearn for the day I might be able to ride my own bike and park it along with the others. The funny part of my dream was, I didn't even know how to ride a bicycle.
That summer with a baseball team practicing on the community ball field, boys would ride their bikes to practice. I was too young to play baseball but I would go watch the practices and one day I ask one of the ball players if I might try to learn to ride his bike. He agreed to let me ride his bike and everyday when he came to practice baseball, I would practice my bike riding. I wrecked pretty often and was afraid he might tell me to not bother his bike anymore but luckily, he didn't seem to mind. Soon I got the hang of it and could ride easily.
My new skill only fueled my desire to have my own bicycle. That year for Christmas my daddy bought me a Western Flyer. It was a maroon 24 inch bicycle just like the one I had seen in the Western Auto and had sat upon for a stranger buying a bike for his son. I don't know how daddy was able to buy this bike for me but he had made me the happiest boy in Tuxedo, North Carolina. Later on in life I learned daddy had bought the bike on credit and had paid for it in small weekly payments. I knew the sacrifices he had made to buy this bicycle for me and knew and appreciated the Christmas gift so very much. In those days, collectors from town came to the mill village to collect on accounts for stores in town. Mom and Dad had an account at Houston's Furniture and the man who collected came by our house one day soon after Christmas. "Young man," he said,"I see you have a new "wheel.""No sir, a new bicycle!', was my reply, I didn't know at the time,"wheel" was an old slang term for a bicycle.
I remember buying my sons their first bikes and the joy of seeing them learn to ride.Bikes had changed a lot since that first Western Flyer my daddy bought me in the 1950's. They now had banana seats and all the bells and whistles. My grandsons are now riding their first bicycles. Just like their paw-paw, those bikes have proven to be a lot of fun and exercise. I still enjoy riding a bicycle and the bikes of today with 18 gears are mighty nice and friendly for older legs.
We live in an area of bicycle enthusiast and the rural roads of weekends are filled with almost as many bikers as there is road traffic. The bikers have clubs and riding over 100 miles on a Saturday or Sunday is not unusual. Whether your're young or old or somewhere in between, biking is a great recreational sport.
- The First-Timer's Guide to Mountain Biking in Western North Carolina
Frequently asked questions and an introduction to mountain biking in Western North Carolina.