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?