(Courtesy of e-vintage-bicycles.com)
For years, my best friend was a bicycle something like the one above, although mine was smaller, of a brighter blue, and had a pristine white seat and white handle-bar grips. Because it was brand-new and not a hand-me-down, I was ordered to take especially good care of it. I remember once when I inadvertently left it out overnight and it got rained on, I went outside as soon as the storm was over and wiped it dry with an old towel, polishing away the water spots and any blemishes until the chrome shone.
God, I loved that bike. It was my first “big kid’s” bike, the one I learned to balance on (with the help of training wheels), the one I stood beside with pride the day my dad finally removed those horrible, ill-made, wobbly, uneven trainers and — finally and at last! — allowed my bicycle — and me — to FLY!
At first, my worry-wart mother allowed me to ride only a short distance to the house where my friend David Micklas lived. Dave and I spent hours zooming up and down that back-country road, ‘burning rubber’ between his place and mine, wearing ruts in the dirt (and, later, the asphalt). For the longest time, our metal steeds were horses. I can’t remember which flavor Dave favored but mine was always a Palomino or an Appaloosa. We pastured them on the long grass of my front yard while we ate lunch, and watered them at the ancient hand-pump that stood near the end of the driveway. After Dave went home, I’d groom my mount, talking to it the whole while, wheel it into its ‘stall’ (a vacant corner of the garage), and bed it down for the night before going in to my dinner.
And the games we played! Cowboys and Indians (although more usually, Cowboys and Outlaws); Pony Express. We enacted every horse race we’d ever heard of or read about. We led covered wagons across vast deserts and died glorious deaths (usually with a spectacularly dramatic fall down the long slope of the hill behind my house).
The introduction of folded playing cards fixed to the frame with clothes pins so they could slap against the wheel spokes radically changed our outlook. Where before we’d had the muffled thunder of hoofbeats to punctuate our travels and adventures, now we had the roaring burr of a well-toned engine. Not only did we have horses to ride, but now we had motorcycles as well!
How many adults did we drive bat-shit that first summer, zooming up and down Plant Road wrapped in a deafening roar? We’d begin beyond David’s house, where the road met Route 146 in front of Glen Palmer’s home. Side by side, neck and neck, we’d rollick past David’s house, blow past the end of my driveway, and continue along the street. The ancient willow tree and the Martin Farm were reduced to a watery blur as we shrieked past,hunched over our handle-bars with elbows akimbo, legs and knees pumping, standing on the pedals to give us more thrust. Where the road once again joined Route 146, we’d turn in a spray of gravel and start back the way we’d come.
In time, my universe of exploration widened. Soon I was allowed to voyage down the back spur of our road, nearly all the way to Route 9 (nothing to you, but at the time some amazing distance to me) to visit the Hayner or Hyde kids, or explore the deep cleft of dirt cliff where the town trucks loaded up with sand and dirt for the roads, or picket my steed in a copse of trees while I hiked the tiny patch of woods that at the time seemed as vast as the world.
By that time, though, it was obvious that I’d outgrown my beloved companion. Another bike was purchased, this one a full-sized adult model with a purple and white frame and a seat with silver sparkles. The little blue work-horse, my little pony of a bike, was handed down to relatives (who, I’m sad to say, left it out in the rain to rust – an ignominious end to such a stout-hearted and brave companion). I liked the new bike, but it was never as alive to me as the blue one, never so much the bonny friend, never so much a part of my heart.