A tall tale about learning to ride a bike
My niece, Juliette, just turned 7 and got a brand new, shiny purple bicycle.
Seeing it automatically makes me want to grow taller. Odd, you’re thinking? Read on.
The last time I was over at her house, Juliette grabbed my hand and pulled me outside.
“You have to see my new bike, Auntie!,” she said.
Indeed, it was a sight to behold. A kind of a cross between a mountain bike and an old-fashioned two-wheeled upright, it made me think back to when I swooned for my first bike.
It was the 1960s, and back then, Schwinn Sting Rays were the ticket. It seemed like every kid – but me, of course – was cruising around on his or hers banana-seated, “Easy Rider” handlebarred, kickstand-equipped ‘Ray. The girls’ version even came with a handlebar basket adorned with fake, plastic flowers. I wanted a Sting Ray so bad I dreamt about it.
I was probably around Juliette’s age and had progressed from a hand-me-down tricycle to a hand-me-down, two-wheeled job that had been spray painted for each kid in the neighborhood that it had been passed onto. We added a layer of blue spray paint to it before I adopted it for my own.
I remember learning to ride on that old rickety bike. Dad didn’t believe in training wheels, (“That’s no way to learn to ride a bike,” he said), which meant that Dad got a really good workout jogging alongside the bike, his hand guiding the seat, as I, shakingly at first, steered the old girl down our street.
Dad would come home from work that summer, and I’d immediately start prodding him to go for a ride, albeit balanced by his steady hand. I can remember the sound of his tennies slapping against the asphalt as we rode up and down the street in front of our house. “Don’t let go! Don’t let go!” I’d say.
Finally, it was “fly and be free” time. One second, Dad was jogging next to the bike as I pedaled and steered, and the next, I realized he wasn’t there and I was riding that bike all by myself. He’d let go of the seat, and was standing in the street watching me weave my way to the curb. I was an official bicyclist.
Of course, with my new skill, I needed new wheels. I began my quest for a Sting Ray to call my own. My parents, being the creative negotiators they were, agreed, on one condition: I had to be tall enough for the top of my head to reach the bottom of one of our wooden kitchen cabinet doors that hung on the wall next to the sink. In other words, I needed to be about four inches taller than I was.
Looking back, I understand this was a wonderful way to bide some time to budget some money for a new bicycle. And in the meantime, it gave me a goal that I really had no control over, but was something I knew I’d ultimately attain. And then … Sting Ray!
At the time, it seemed like an absolute eternity until I grew those few inches. I think in reality it was a few months (I had a growth spurt). And, true to their word, when the top of my head reached the bottom of that cabinet door, we went down to the local Schwinn dealer, and I got to pick out my new ‘Ray. It was blue, by the way, with a white basket and blue plastic flowers.
Juliette tells me she’s getting training wheels on her new bike, and she’ll learn to ride that way. Seeing her with her new bike – her first bike that’s all hers – is a good thing, and that’s why it still makes me wish I was taller.
Carrie Click is a Post Independent staff writer. Her column runs on Tuesdays.
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