Posts Tagged 'Bicycles'

A Bike Story

My first bicycle was a Schwinn. Black and white with shiny fenders, it gleamed in the sunshine as it stood waiting for me in the alley behind my folks’ second floor porch in Chicago’s Albany park, a mecca for transplanted Russians and other Jews.

I walked around the bike that my father had brought home the prior evening and had placed out of harm’s way in one of the darkened basement sheds allocated to tenants. I had whined for weeks about wanting a bike, so its appearance on my birthday was not a shock.

At eleven, I was not yet aware of my parents limited financial resources. Surrounded by family, friends, and other neighborhood denizens, I was primarily exposed to people living in similar circumstances. In retrospect, I’m sure that the bike took a healthy bite out of father’s paycheck.

SchwinnThe Cadillac of bikes, its company was established 1895 by Ignaz Schwinn, a German immigrant, and his meat packer partner Adolph Arnold. It survived the Great Depression and continued producing bikes in the U.S. under various corporate guises until it finally succumbed to the allure of Chinese productivity. The Paramount, Stingray, and Schwinn-Twinn came and went. Advertising kept Schwinn in the public eye; the company was an early sponsor of TV’s Captain Kangaroo.

I walked around the sturdily built bike with fat balloon tires and its lever-actuated bell mounted on the handlebar. In 1950, this bike would have been called snazzy, flashy, and sleek. I daydreamed about where it would take me while I built up my confidence. Finally, I lifted my left leg over the horizontal bar that announced the bicycle’s gender as a “boy’s bike.”

Swinging the kickstand up from the asphalt, I brought the left side pedal to its full vertical position and placed my foot on top of it. I pushed the pedal forward. The bike moved a few feet. I tried to hop up onto the thickly cushioned seat. And then I fell over.

The bike shivered as it came to rest on its left side, the front wheel spinning slowly for what seemed an eternity. Then it stopped and all was silent. I had scraped my knee but, in comparison to the shame I felt, it was no big deal. The bike had escaped relatively unscathed except for a scratch on the chrome plated handlebar near the bell. It was a reminder that stayed with me each time I mounted the Schwinn that took me through my college years.

I bought a ten-speed racing bike when our kids were safely in school. For not much reason other than it seemed like the thing to do. Like all bikes of its genre, it was fitted with a seat that produced pain at the same level as the Spanish Inquisition’s torture rack. The seat was a combination of metal tubing covered with some animal skin. That’s it. No padding. No springs. Not a good combination for a guy with a skinny ass and a low tolerance for bike seat

When I began riding the bike with the Torquemada designed seat, I complained to whoever would listen. Some people commiserated while others said, “Keep at it. You’ll get used to it.” And I thought, “Why should I?”

My bike riding consisted largely of shifting gears that never seemed to do what I wanted, and repositioning my ass trying to share my discomfort equally with the various pressure points in my butt and my tailbone.  And so, unlike my dear Schwinn, the ten-speed ended up in our Northridge garage, gathering dust and losing air in the tires until they were flat. I finally sold it to someone with a highly cushioned ass, for a whole lot less than I paid for it. Good riddance.

Twenty years passed in Northridge while I avoided a further encounter with a bike. The next move to our Ojai home high up on the hill put an end to any thought of mounting one. The terrain was much too steep; merely walking up Sulphur Mountain Road required the skill of a gazelle and the lungs of a blue whale. People with bikes who tried it were known to stop mid-way, cry unconsolably, and admit defeat.

I moved to town almost a year ago. To a house without steps, on a flat lot, in a flat neighborhood and with a flat one-mile walk to the Ojai Post Office. Surrounded by scores of bikers, Jackie and I talked about being part of that in-crowd. We were particularly attracted to electric assisted E-bikes. Not a fully operational motor scooter, the E-bike merely compliments one’s own pedal power with an array of assisted options. Given my age, I felt no shame with the idea of sharing the load with a lithium ion battery.como ebike

A week ago, we called the MOB bike shop and found that they would be happy to have us try the E-bike that afternoon at 2. Choosing to ignore the current 99-degree temperature, we jumped at the offer. Arriving at the shop, I casually informed Jackie that my car thermometer was recording the first triple digits of the summer. Consistent with her penchant for following through with commitments, she said, “It’s an electric bike. We’ll go slow. Only for ten minutes. Don’t be a pussy. You’ll be fine.”

Tim took our temperature to rule out Covid-19; I was mildly disappointed when I passed the test. Handing us over to young Melanie, we signed the usual waivers relieving the shop of any liability including the crime of wantonly exposing octogenarians to bodily harm. She gave us general instructions that I immediately forgot, fitted us with fashionable helmets, and adjusted our seat heights to a position based on information only known to her.

Jackie was the first to fall from the bike not ten feet from the shop’s front door. Light as a feather, she landed unscathed. I figured I could do better. Mounting the bike, I depressed the left pedal. Moving forward I brushed against Jackie, lost my balance, and fell stage-right while the bike attempted a quick escape by falling stage-left. I scraped the same knee that was a victim in the Schwinn incident seventy years ago, including my embarrassment.

The shop owner, who had been watching this Marx Brothers routine, came closer to me than Covid-19 precautions allow and said, “You know, while the bike is valuable, the safety of our customers is our top priority.”

Translated, he meant, “Don’t you think you’re a little old for this? You’ll probably kill yourself. Be smart. Get your ass out of here before it’s too late.”

Rising to my full five-foot-eight and a half inches (I used to be five-ten), I thanked the owner for his concern, assured Jackie that I was in full control of my senses, and reclaimed the wayward bike.

We walked the bikes across Ojai Avenue, mounted them and rode with some trepidation to the bike path. We entered the path, dodged oncoming fearless bikers, and were successful at avoiding further mishaps.

We returned the bikes, once again walking them across the Avenue. I glanced at the owner and with some smugness said, “Thank you for your concerns but I’ve got everything under control.” Lying does not become me and I think he knew better; but, sensing a possible sale, he nodded his agreement.

My knee is nicely scabbed over. We’re going riding again tomorrow. Think I’ll wear long pants.

I never saw him

I never saw him.  It was like a flash in time.  The sound was unbelievable.   From afar.  A roar, then a scraping of metal.  Then silence.  Except for the thud as his body slammed into my windshield.  He sprawled on the ground, not breathing.  Blood everywhere. The mangled bike’s front wheel upside down and spinning as his life ebbed.  How could this be?

But for the luck of the draw, it could have happened exactly that way.

We had just finished our business at Rabobank.  Nothing complicated.  Nothing out of the ordinary that might distract me from the awesome responsibility of driving a ton of metal safely.

We strapped ourselves into our seats and I cautiously backed out of the parking space.  I tend to be more deliberate about that process than I ever have been.  Partially, it’s a reluctant concession to the ravages of aging.  An innate recognition that my reflexes are not as sharp as they were when our kids were young and I was sure I’d live forever.

When exploring  a parking lot I prepare myself for the worst.  Chances are that a car will be going much too fast through the lot, the driver on his cell phone staying connected, unwilling to give it a rest, assuming  an overblown self-importance that someone really needs to speak with him right now.

I managed to complete the backing maneuver without loss of life or property and proceeded to the exit, stopping and then positioning myself for a right turn, heading south onto Maricopa highway.   I looked once, twice, and made sure there was no one walking imperiously on the sidewalk while assuming they have a natural immunity to injury by car.  I then glanced left to be certain I would not interfere with an oncoming southbound vehicle.  Having assured myself that I would live another day, I began to exit the lot.

Hey!  Hey!!!!  he shouted.  Slamming on my brakes, I looked right to discover a bicycle rider who had been pedaling north in the southbound lane.  He was in his forties.  No helmet.  No fear.  Now stopped dead, almost, in his tracks.

Time came to a halt for what seemed like an eternity.  We slowly began breathing again.  We recognized what could have been.  He looked embarrassed.  “You’re on the wrong side of the road” I shouted with as much authority as I could muster while simultaneously recovering from an overabundance of adrenalin.  He looked even more embarrassed.  “You’re right, I’m sorry, really sorry” he offered by way of an apology.  And then he crossed in front of me and continued mindlessly pedaling down the highway…still on the wrong side of the road.  Not sorry enough I guess.

I rode a bike in the dark ages, when phones were always connected to the wall and when helmets were worn only by soldiers fighting in Korea.  As a kid, I can remember riding down the wrong side of the road, or on the sidewalk, and never ever halting for a stop sign.  After all, only cars needed to do that.  I survived in spite of my ignorance.

A while ago I was screamed at by a helmetless woman biker who chose to ignore her stop sign as I was entering  the intersection.  “Courtesy to bikers” she hollered as she slalomed, Olympic style, through the intersection and struggled with her now unstable bike in order to avoid becoming a statistic.

Two weeks ago Sweetie and I were seated on one of those cute wooden benches in front of Rains when two biking teenagers nearly severed our feet at the ankles as they careened along the sidewalk.  They used the Saturday horde of visiting pedestrians like a set of  pylons at a championship bike race.  I shouted “Hey, you guys don’t belong on the sidewalk.”  As they continued their dare-devil adventure down the sidewalk, I was treated to an ear shattering series of well-practiced phrases better suited to an X-rated feature film.

Yes, I know that the majority of bicycle riders are god-fearing, law-abiding citizens.  And my encounters with those on the opposite side of the coin are perhaps neither representative of the larger biking population nor even worth mentioning.

But it only takes a single exception to cause a whole world of sorrow.



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