My First Bike

Julie did a post the other day about her daughter’s adventures in learning to ride her bike which reminded me of when I first learned to ride a bike. Julie also mentioned how few kids seem to know the rules of safe cycling.

Back in the day, when I was a youngster, bicycle safety and pedestrian safety were a major part of our elementary school curriculum. (Had to watch out for those horseless carriage contraptions dontcha know). Every spring and fall,  Elmer the Safety Elephant  used to visit schools along with someone from the local police to give us instructions on how to walk and cycle safely and to teach us the cycling hand signals and such.

Then there would be activities throughout the school year related to Elmer. We had an Elmer flag on our school’s flagpole which would be lowered any time there was an incident and schools with the fewest incidents would get a special prize at the end of the year. One year our school won and Bing Crosby’s wife came to present us with our prize. It was quite the toodoo.

Of course that was several years after I first learned to ride a bike.

I never had a tricycle or any sort of wheeled toy when I was a kid. I spent years longing for a bike; begging for a bike; desperate for the freedom of my own bike. Finally, late in the summer before I was about to start school, they figured I should have a bike so I could get back and forth to school.

My dad and I went out shopping one Saturday morning. Doing anything alone with one of my parents was, in itself, an unprecedented adventure. I don’t remember what store we went to or anything about the store or the salesman. I only remember that we found my bike – a light blue shiny new CCM.

It was beautiful. It was far beyond anything I was expecting. I would have been happy with a rusty old migrant farm worker bike.

For some reason, my blue CCM had no seat though. That, too was perfectly fine with me. I was willing to ride that bike without a seat, but that, apparently was out of the question. My dad was going to leave without the bike, but I couldn’t let that happen. After some wrangling and discussing the salesman finally managed to dig up a seat from somewhere.

It was red and white. He thought we probably wouldn’t want a red and white seat on a blue bike and said he could probably order us a blue and white seat in a couple of weeks. Well, there was no way I was leaving that store without my bike so I convinced my dad that I loved that red and white seat and we should take it home right away.

What did I care what colour the seat was? It had two wheels and two pedals. That’s all I cared about. I just wanted something to pedal. I wanted to ride. Feel the wind in my hair. Go places. See things. And I wanted it now.

When we got home there were yet more delays to my freedom. First we had to have lunch.  Then after lunch my dad said he had another errand to do, but would teach me to ride the bike as soon as he got back.

“Pffft,” I thought. “I don’t need to wait for him. I WILL not wait for him. I can do this on my own!”

Since we lived in the boonies, I had a choice of learning to ride on a dirt road and possibly encountering cars and trucks; or riding on the driveway which was gravel and seemed like it would hurt if I fell down on it; or riding in the orchard which was dirt and rough and lumpy, but which had some smooth spots where the tractor wheels had been.

So off I went to the orchard with my new bike. I don’t have a real clear memory of the learning process, but they tell me I was out there for two hours on that hot, humid August afternoon.

And then I emerged.

My clothes, arms, legs, face and hair were covered in dirt, mud, twigs and leaves. But I was riding my bike – a little wobbly, but with supreme confidence and beaming from ear to ear.

They couldn’t get me off it that day until it was too dark to see anymore.

They wouldn’t let me ride it to school, however, until around the third or fourth week into the school year – after we’d had our visit from Elmer and the Fuzz.

My route to school was a hard-packed dirt road with a gravel shoulder. I knew I was supposed to stay off to the side of the road, but I wanted to ride on the hard-packed dirt, not in the nasty gravel.

Well, I guess I was too far into the road because some driver behind me followed me to school and went in to complain to the principal that I was a menace on the road. That very evening, my teacher and a police officer came to visit my parents and said I needed more time learning the rules of safe cycling before I should be allowed on a bike. They confiscated my bike for six weeks.


The olden days were so weird, weren’t they?

That was the only bike I ever had until I was an adult and bought my own. When my blue CCM got too small for me, it was handed down to my sister. When it got too small for her, my brothers harvested it for parts for their bikes and go-karts. It was a well-used and much loved bike.

Do you remember your first bike and/or learning to ride a two-wheeler?


33 responses to “My First Bike

  1. About the only thing I specifically remember about my first bike is from about 50 years ago when I ran into the side of a car and my face slammed into the into the handle bar of the bike.

    I still have the chipped upper front tooth from that misadventure — though I think that’s the next tooth scheduled for being replaced with a crown…, sometime in September.

  2. Oddly I don’t remember any actual learning. Maybe I was just given a bike with training wheels and left to my own devices. I do remember asking to have the training wheels removed. I guess my olden days are even older than yours because we were never taught rules or hand signals or anything like that. It was just: Here’s your bike, don’t leave it out in the rain.
    (I also remember attaching playing cards with clothes pins to make a cool sound and putting my cat in my basket. I still can’t believe that cat stayed in the basket.)

  3. I don’t remember my first bike but I do remember my last one.
    It was a Jet Black Raleigh 18 speed racer with aluminum wheels and ultra thin tires.
    I was 18 years old and pretty proud of myself – riding like the wind all over the place. One day I was going as hard as I could along the brow of the escarpment and Gord Singleton passed me as if I was standing still. I said “Fuck this, I’m getting one with an engine” and haven’t ridden a bicycle since.

  4. I remember my 2nd bicycle, but it was fun teaching my daughter how to ride a two wheeler. No problem with training wheels but taking those off was a bit of an adventure.

    She doesn’t get to ride it much here – only in our apartment complex so I’m sure she’ll love it once we’ve moved back to Canada. At that time of course I’ll be teaching her the rules of bicycle riding which like you I learned at school.

    My parents required me to pass a bicycle safety course before I was allowed to cycle to school. Wasn’t hard to pass but what was hard was waiting for the course to come to my school so I could take it.

  5. Great story XUP and the photo is beautiful. I remember my Dad also taught me how to ride a bike…and we bought it at Canadian Tire (just like the commercial) My bike had a banana seat and it was red. I remember putting cut straws on the spokes for sound effects and extra “coolness”.

  6. I learned to ride a 2 wheeler the summer I was 7 1/2. I really didn’t want to, but my parents figured it was way past time I learned, so bribed me with an Andy Gibb album. Everlasting Love will never die, baby!

    We’ve been working with our two oldest kids for the past two summers. They’re now 7 1/2 and almost six, and neither one will go NEAR a bike. They are terrified, even with training wheels, and won’t even get on the thing without major histronics. We’ve decided it’s not worth the hassle — their loss — but seriously, are my kids crazy or what? They don’t like pie, they don’t like CHOCOLATE, they don’t like bikes. Am I even related to these people?

  7. this is so great – love the story and picture of the proud bike owner….
    we owned the neighbourhood with our bikes, i can’t imagine surviving without bikes back then. in a small town that’s what you did to get from a to b….
    grace is an awesome cyclist already, someone even gave her a fancy bike. edie shocked me the other day with a 2K trek on her john deer bike (with training wheels). hopefully they too will own the neighbourhood.

    one side story about my favourite bike – it was a crazy bike my dad had brought over from Scotland when he moved to Canada. It was turquoise in colour, and looked alot like those bikes that hipsters tool around in now. anyhooo, i loved that bike, brought it to university (it had a basket, verrry practical). one night i heard some commotion outside. it was my ex-boyfriend, mid-mushroom trip, circling my house on my bike. i couldn’t stop him, he finally came to a stop by crashing my bike into a parked car. the bike was damaged beyond repair. sniff.

  8. Dr. Monkey – Thanks. My dad used to cut my hair. It was horrid, really.

    Mike – Wow, it’s been chipped for 50 years and now you’re going to get it fixed? I hope that little accident wasn’t your first foray with a new bike?

    Geewits – Maybe Canada is just more of a helicopter country where we hover over our citizens and make sure they’re safe. Although I think they’ve given up on that whole Elmer school visit thing. I don’t remember my daughter ever being taught any of that stuff in school either.

    Lebowski – Gord Singleton? THE Gord Singleton? I don’t think you get the same level of exercise on a motorcycle judging by some of the bikers I’ve seen.

    Sean – The suburbs should be a bit safer for your kids here. Maybe they can even ride to school if there’s one close by!

    MM – I never did any of that pimping up of my bike. I don’t know why. Maybe I just never thought of it or couldn’t be bothered. I think we bought my bike at the small town hardware store or something. I don’t remember that either.

    Lynn – Kids who don’t want to ride bikes? Hmmm.That’s really, really odd. I can see the chocolate and pie, but not the bike thing. Did they have tricycles or any other wheelie type toys?

    Meanie – Bastard. Bike killers ought to get life imprisonment. Too bad there isn’t a way to double dump an ex. It’s great that your neighbourhood is still car-free enough for your kids to ride around in.

  9. My first bike was a (Ugh!) GIRL’s bike. It was a hand-me-down from all my girl cousins.

    Never did like that thign…I had training wheels for a year. My Dad kept procrastinating and didnt take them off. Then ended up getting bent and they didn’t even touch the ground anymore. When he finally took them off, there was no issue….I could ride perfectly.

    I had that girls bike till Grade 2, then I had big red Raleigh which I rode till I was almost 14. I beat the hell out of it…rode it down toboggan hills, throught the woods, and took jumps off ramps of plywood and such. Those things were indestructible.

    I loved that bike. I rode it till I was 13, after which I finally, finally, for the first time ever, got a brand new bike.

    But I’ll never forget the red Raleigh.

  10. Okay, this totally made my day because you mentioned my name twice — twice! — in your intro paragraph. So I am officially famous, and special, and awaiting my tiara to arrive by courier now! 🙂

    Bike memories:
    – my brother and I were both give brand spanking new two-wheelers as a big gift (for Easter, I think?). I was thrilled. He? Not so much. I think my parents must have found a sale because both bikes had a definite pink hue to them. We all spent a bit of time convincing him that it wasn’t pink, it was more red. (totally pink though.)
    – then my Dad taught us how to ride out on the street. I recall running into some poor sucker’s parked car. I didn’t hurt myself, but there was definitely some scratches left behind on his car!
    – I had my first “big” bike accident when we were living overseas. Someone threw a ball in the middle of the road as I was coming. I tried to kick it out of the way while riding my bike. Unsuccessful. Not exactly sure what happened next. But I ended up on the road with lots of blood pouring from my forehead (before people wore helmets). I still have the scar. But mostly I remember being so famous with everyone running out to the street to see me. See, even then I wanted my fame tiara?

    Great post! Also love that picture!

  11. This is such a sweet nostalgic post, I like it a lot. Like you I disappeared for a few hours with my first bike and only came back when I could RIDE it back. I still love bikes.

  12. I got my first 2 wheeler at 8 yrs old and started riding it to school that fall. It was a sweet, blue, Robin Hood single speed. Then a red 3 speed that took me into and through high school and then a few others since. The next best thing to flying cars, the bikes have taken me everywhere important in life. School, swimming, shopping, the girl friend and finally all the way home from Vancouver to St Catharines. Someday soon I think I might give up cycling but not just yet.

  13. My first bike was a shiny rust coloured Canadian Tire special, which I learned to ride on the concrete playground of the local school. After the training wheels came off, I rode it all over the neighbourhood (and beyond).

    I remember Elmer, and we also had a police constable come visit our school to give us pointers and run us through a course set up with pretend streets, stop signs, etc.

  14. My first bike was a hand me down from my sister.

    My second bike was a boys bike. And it was my introduction to the importance of not letting your foot slip off the pedals when you stood up on them.

  15. Yes THE Gord Singleton. I know him now and he’s a pretty good guy. Funny was that I recounted that story to him and we both got a laugh out of it. By the way he still rides something like 25 or 30 kms every day before he goes to work.

  16. Friar – I never understood why boys needed to have that bar there on their bikes anyway. So much more potential for pain and suffering – especially when you’re first learning to ride. But ya, one advantage of being the oldest and having no other relatives around is never having hand-me-downs.

    Julie – Oh please! You’ve got so many tiaras from so many places with all the accolades and writing gigs you have, you certainly don’t need a puny tin foil tiara from me. So, you’re Dad let you scratch up some guy’s car and he didn’t leave a note or anything? As for my photo – I think I have the same expression on my face in all my childhood photos (Check back to the one on my post about “Jimmy”). You had to take pictures only on sunny days and the sun had to be at your back so all the subjects of the photos had a full face full of sun. Do you like my sensible shoes, too?

    Robin – Thanks. It took me just a few hours more to learn to drive a car. No sense wasting a lot of time learning things properly when faking your way through works just as well. That’s my motto.

    Mike –Dental work isn’t meant to last very long. I’ve been finding that out myself.

    Dave1949 – I used to have an old Dutch neighbour named Bill who was still riding his bike everywhere well into his 90s. So you probably have a few good cycling years left in you yet.

    Paul – If you remember Elmer you must be old, too. He still has a website so he must still be doing something.

    Glen – You and Friar both learned on girls’ bikes. It probably saved you a lot of injury as you were learning to ride. Maybe your parents did that deliberately for that very reason?

    Lebowski – Well, isn’t he just the little over-achiever!

  17. I think my father thought I would get my brother’s hand me down bike, but when I was nine and still not big enough for his bike, I finally got my own. I remember the training wheels… and being terrified once they were off to ride it out of our driveway and down the street because we lived at the top of a hill. That terror only increased when I crashed going around the corner from the side street into ours on that steep, steep (as it seemed then) incline.

    Oh yeah, and the final humiliation were the streamers he thought I would like since I was a girl. Hated them. Can’t remember if it was a girl’s or boy’s bike I had, but I think I always swung my leg over to get on, so I rather think it may have been a boy’s. Either that or I just copied my big brother.

  18. They discontinued Elmer a few years ago, and his school program a while before that.

    I have quite a few memories of my first bike. Like riding with my parents and following the sidewalk, then trying to turn left 90 degrees a foot away from a parked car to get around it.

    We got my bike from the Westboro Sports Center at Richmond and Churchill. It was blue and white with a banana seat. The girl down the street had the same bike, only with a basket on the front (of which I was a bit jealous). I actually have a photo somewhere of our twin bikes lying on the driveway.

    I had training wheels, then my dad took one off to ease me out of them. I would only turn around on that side, to be safe.

    I had a nasty fall when I was four or five. I screamed bloody murder until a neighbour heard me and came to investigate. I think I just got a cut on my upper lip.

    I remember my next bike because it was a heavy steel kid’s bike, but my dad had a much lighter road bike. With that and my being much smaller (and therefore weaker) than he, it was always a pain in the butt to keep up with him on Sunday rides.

    I also remember my dad taking my bike in the car to Carlingwood’s parking lot some Sunday and we did some learn to ride exercises. Which is now confusing me because this was my second bike…

    Thanks for reminding me of these memories!

    – RG>

  19. I don’t think a single child in my neighborhood has ever been taught the rules of the road. They always come flying down the cul-de-sac into the street without checking to see if a car is coming. Too bad that they discontinued Elmer, these kids could use the lesson.
    I found this site that might be helpful.

  20. Hey, there. I’m over here from Mike’s blog. “A little wobbly, but with supreme confidence and beaming from ear to ear.” — I KNOW that feeling — and it doesn’t have anything to do with alcohol 🙂

    I remember my first bike really well. It was an old white bike that mom picked up second-hand. I learned to ride in one afternoon on the farm; determined, I was. Man, I was triumphant! Then… mom bought me a new bike for my grade 6 graduation. It was slightly too big for me and I could hardly ride it. Funny.

  21. Ahhh… thanks for reminding me of my purple CCM with high-rise handle bars and a banana seat!
    Spent many a hot and sunny day racing my brother up and down the driveway, over ramps and through puddles…
    Good times…

  22. Violetsky – So, are you fond of cycling still? Do you own a bike? Do you ever ride one? Sounds like you didn’t have a very fun introduction to the joys of bicycling.

    Grouchy – Memory is a strange and mysterious thing, isn’t it? What a good dad you had to riding with you – even if he was faster and left you behind in the dust. What do you mean they “discontinued” Elmer? He still has a website that makes it look like he’s still as active as his big elephant ass allows him to be.

    Meg – Like I told Grouchy – there’s still an Elmer website that makes it seem like he’s still out there doing his thing. Although I sure don’t remember anything Elmer-like ever happening at my daughter’s school. They did have a bike rodeo one year, but they didn’t learn anything at it.

    Davina – Mike Goad’s blog? Welcome Davina. I have seen your name around the blogosphere. Did you learn to ride in an orchard, too? Or did you have a nice smooth driveway to practice on?

    Trashee – You can almost tell how old people are by what their first bicycle was like.

  23. Yes, I own a bike. And one day, I will take the clothes off the handle bars and dust the frame and pump up the tires and actually ride it, somewhere.

    I thought I read recently that Elmer was being resurrected in schools. Not sure if the actual “Elmer mascot” will pay a visit as he did in my youth and hand out certificates of safety excellence, etc.

  24. I remember learning to ride in a field near one of my old houses.. man that field was bumpy as heck.

    That house was at the top of a big hill (Well I imagine it wouldn;t be quite as impressive for me now as an adult) which led to the library at the bottom.

    I would ride down that whenever I got a chance.

    I saw an article a few weeks ago in the paper talking about how some parents don’t want to teach their kids to ride and are hiring professionals to do it. What a shame. Don’t have any kids yet, but those are special moments when kids first learn to ride a bike.

  25. Violetsky – Bikes do make good clothes racks – especially stationary bikes because they don’t fall over as easily.

    Justin – It’s not cool to raise your kids yourself. It’s best to farm all that stuff out to other people that way if something goes wrong and your kids turns out to be a screw-up or a serial killer you can blame it on the nannies and contractors and schools. Something to keep in mind if and when you decide to have kids.

    Grouchy – Elephants are okay, but there’s a time and place for everything. The African Savannah perhaps is a better place for elephants than riding bicycles in inner city schools is.

  26. I learned to ride *near* an orchard on an old, unpaved driveway. Nothing better, eh? Phooey on those smoothed paved surfaces. Plus, I’d rather land on my face in the dirt, than on cement, lol.

  27. a day later, and I feel like its too late to tell you about how a year ago my six year old daughter, while getting a bit better at the steering and pedaling simultaneously part of bicycling, drove into the ditch on our road. She wasn’t especially hurt, just covered in mud (you can ask the Maven – it was in front of her house). Since then she’s refused to ride anywhere with a ditch, which means we have to drive her bike anywhere to ride it. Her brother and I go for bike rides without her when she’s playing soccer now.

  28. Davina – Ya! We were the original BMXers. Maybe that’s why we didn’t need helmets back then? Everywhere we rode was dirt.

    Gokalie – It’s never too late. You should tell her some of these “first bike riding” stories so she won’t feel like she’s the only one who ever crashed their bike into something or ended up covered in mud. There are people who deliberately ride their bikes through ditches and crash into stuff. It’s a sport. All part of the fun.

  29. aww a baby xup 🙂 so cute! times sure are different, you can murder someone on the street and there’s a 50-50 chance anyone will call the cops.

    i explored all over on my bike, would be gone for HOURS and no one ever knew where i was or cared.

    i once tried to put air in it and it exploded on me right by my head. i wouldn’t put air in my tire for YEARS after that. was traumatic 🙂

  30. Leah – Did you use one of those gas station air things or a hand pump? I was always scared of those gas station air things — still am. For the very reason that I always thought the tire would explode on my head. Now I know for sure.