Bicycle beginnings — Part 1

We start every session of “Truth and Techniques,” the classroom portion of CyclingSavvy, with brief introductions that include participants’ history with bikes.*  As part of my effort to get back to more bike-related posts here, I thought I would share a bit of my own story.

While I probably had some kind of tricycle in my early years, I remember the pink banana seat bicycle my parents gave me for my fifth birthday as my first bike.  It looked something like this:

Image from another bicycle beginnings type post, click for link
Image from another bicycle beginnings type post, click for link

It was probably a bit big for me, but I had long legs, and, most importantly, determination to ride my beautiful new bike!  I remember my dad doing the classic running-and-holding-on-to-the-back, then letting go, as I learned to ride without training wheels.

My other main memory of that bike is riding down our alley one day, and noticing my shoelace getting caught in the pedal.  Instead of stopping to untangle it, I chose to continue riding, with the shoelace getting wound ever more tightly, until finally there was no more lace, the pedal wouldn’t turn, and I went down.  It was a slow-motion crash, reminiscent of a couple of falls that I would take years down the road, as I adjusted to clipless pedals.

I didn’t ride a bike to school since we lived only three houses from my elementary school, easily walkable.

I don’t know if my first ten-speed was a new, discount-store bike or a nice garage-sale find, but, at some point, probably when I was around ten or eleven, I graduated to a “grown up” bike, something with gears that made that cool whirring sound while coasting like my parents’ bikes did.

I should note that while my parents rode some recreationally, they didn’t really use bikes for transportation (to my knowledge).  I should also note that, while we had to wear helmets, my parents did not wear helmets, so I looked forward to the day when I would be grown up enough to not have to wear a helmet.  I believe this occurred sometime in middle school, when my parents finally gave up the battle.  Not judging or trying to turn this into a helmet manifesto, but I always shake my head now when I see a helmetless parent riding with his/her helmeted child.

My new bike and advanced age brought new freedoms.  I have fond memories of summers spent riding downtown to the library (ah, being able to go to the library anytime I wanted!) and to Mosquito Park, a small park on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, where my friends and I would sit for hours, eating snacks we bought from the gas station and talking of all that is of import to middle school girls.

For whatever reason, I didn’t ride my bike to middle school.  At just under a mile away, and in an area that I rode regularly anyway, it would have been convenient, but instead I walked (uphill both ways, in the snow, of course).  My load of a heavy backpack and a violin may have served as the main deterrents to biking.

Once high school hit, the bike began to lose its shine, especially when I reached the magical age of sixteen and got a drivers’ license.  While they didn’t officially buy me a car, my parents very generously bought a car for me to use (and later share with my younger sister).  The bike rarely saw the outside of the garage.

And then came college.  Though I hadn’t done much biking in the past few years, I decided that having a bicycle would be a convenient way to get around campus.  I remember going to Wal-Mart with my dad and picking out a pretty purple and bright blue ten-speed, along with a basic cable lock.

When heading to on-campus destinations with friends, I often walked, but when traveling solo, especially to more distant destinations like the bookstore, the bike was quite helpful.

Senior year I moved off campus and bought a car.  The parking lot I used was a good distance from the heart of campus, so I took to leaving my bike locked in the parking lot at the end of the day, and using it as a shuttle of sorts.

One night, I locked my bike up, perhaps in a slightly different location than previous times, and headed home as usual.  When I returned in the morning, the bike was nowhere to be found.  I scratched my head as I looked at the empty post where I’d locked my bike, and then realized that my lock-up of choice was a free-standing waist high post, that, while quite sturdy and nicely cemented, could quite easily be overcome simply by lifting the bike, lock and all, up over the top of the post.  Not my most brilliant moment.

I didn’t bother with a new bike, but a couple of months later, as I was walking by a campus bike rack, I spotted my bike.  Ever since it disappeared, I couldn’t pass a bike on campus without scrutinizing it closely.  Given that it was a basic model from a local discount store, there were actually several of “my bikes” on campus, but this one actually was MY bike.

The lock was still hanging on the frame, and my key fit.  Since the new “owner” had not bothered to secure the bicycle in any way, I glanced around, shrugged, and reclaimed my bike.  I did a better job of locking it up after that!

Well, this is obviously a much longer spiel than I give during class, and we’re only halfway there.  Stay tuned for Part Two, which starts after college graduation, when I moved to St. Louis for grad school, and rediscovered bicycles as a a means of transportation (as they had been for me in middle school).

Until then, do you have any vivid memories from your own bicycle history?  First bike?  Places you liked to ride?

*For all you local folks, there’s a “Truth & Techniques” session tomorrow, March 9th, at Cafe Ventana in Midtown.  Through continued support from Great Rivers Greenway, we’re offering the class at no cost to you, but please click here to register.


  1. EcoCatLady says:

    I am so jealous that you got a bike at age 5! My overly protective parents kept me on an oversized tricycle until I was in the third grade! At that point they bought a remedial bicycle for my overweight older brother in a vain attempt to get him interested in physical activity. I promptly stole it, removed the training wheels and claimed it as my own. The first of many bikes I would love throughout my childhood.

    I could write a novel on this topic but I’ll spare you. You did remind me of the time I was riding to summer orchestra practice with my violin. . . Apparently I wasn’t paying very close attention because I rammed my violin case full on into a parked car. Oh My….

    Can’t wait for part 2!

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      I still have yet to try the biking with a violin thing. With our bike trailer, I feel like I now have a relatively safe option, but I haven’t even touched my violin in ages!

      1. EcoCatLady says:

        Well, as a kid I had a shoulder strap and carried it on my bike all the time. Not sure I’d risk it now though. I fear I’m not very consistent about playing my violin these days… and the universe has punished me with another bow hair big so I’d have to get it re-haired before I could even attempt it. But periodically it’s fun to get together with my best friend from high school and do unspeakable things to the Bach double violin concerto… seriously, I can hear the fellow turning over in his grave!

      2. EcoCatLady says:

        Oops! I meant “Bow Hair BUG” The perils of a Windows 8 tablet… I’m all thumbs!

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