TCI Friday

We were rolling along, me perched near the front of the banana seat, him running beside, one hand on the back of the seat, the other on the handlebars, and suddenly I panicked. I slammed back on the coaster brake and sent him tumbling down the street. I believe he swore at me then. It was the ’70s after all.

He said, “Why the hell did you do that?” And I replied, “I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to stop if you let go.”

We called it a day there.

This is all to say I was not and am not a natural on two wheels. Oh, I’m tidy enough now. I can do some things and go some places, but I didn’t take to the bike like a duck to water. I took to it like a duck to astrophysics.

My recollection is that we took a trip to Wales that summer, that someone loaned me a small red bicycle with solid white rubber tires and left me alone in the steep driveway of my grandparent’s bungalow, perched on a hill above the village. It was there, and on maybe my third try, that I just lifted my legs and coasted away, two-wheeled balance suddenly making sense where previously it had seemed not possible.

Then I was churning away at the pedals, up the village lane to my uncle’s dairy farm. Back and forth I’d go, bridging two worlds less than a quarter mile apart. It’s a miracle I didn’t get run over by a passing car or tractor, but as I said, it was the ’70s. No one worried much then about children.

Back in the States I inherited my brother’s dark purple nightmare of a bike and rode that around our neighborhood for a year. The bike was everything then. It was every day. It was all a kid needed. I like to think it still is.

Anyway, this week’s TCI Friday asks: What are your memories of learning to ride a bike? Who taught you? Or did you teach yourself? What was the bike? How old were you?

Join the conversation
  1. khal spencer says

    It must have been sometime between 1959 and 1961, because it was on the old East Side of Buffalo. Indeed, a little red bike coaster brake bike with solid tires and my stepdad guiding me on it. The training wheels came off pretty fast and I was riding up and down Johnson Street on that bike, which was a spray-painted-pinkish-red 20″ model he scored at the second hand store. Here is my younger brother taking his turn learning to ride, with the old man stabilizing, after we moved out to the country.

  2. jlaudolff says

    I don’t know what bike that was (some red bike with a top tube that could be “adjusted” to be either level or sloping. My dad taught me, with training wheels. I remember my older sisters and I only had one bike so we would make up a course and play “bus stop”, two of us waiting at the bus stop while the other got to ride. I’m the only one of my 3 siblings who even has a bike at all anymore, but I have enough to share in case they ever want to try or we could just play bus stop.

  3. TominAlbany says

    My mom shot a Super 8 home movie of me learning in the back yard. Riding around in circles, or trying. While my Dad helped balance. I think I learned before that, though. On my sister’s bike. A blue schwinn, I think, with a banana seat and, of course, coaster brakes. I don’t know that I was any good yet. But in the home movie referenced above, I do OK for short intervals and then tip.

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      @Tom – I love this. I wish I had video of my own experience. I also wish I currently owned a coaster brake bike.

    2. TominAlbany says

      @Emlyn, When I finally learned to skid a bike with coaster brakes, I felt so cool!

    3. Emlyn Lewis says

      Maybe the best day of my young life, that day. Yes.

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