Get ready to Raleigh—rolling on asphalt, shaking a tail feather,
saddling a blue English 3-speed bicycle. As the Sixties and Seventies brewed concern over air pollution from
automobile exhaust and the energy crisis worsened, the bicycle increased in popularity. The formation of bike
lanes and bike paths ensued. Naturally, this was no concern of mine when I turned ten in 1961. I just wanted
to learn how to ride a two-wheeler. The girl across the street taught me how to get a running start, jump on
the saddle, and ride her Raleigh cold turkey with no training wheels on a driveway the size of a parking lot.
Commiserate with my proficiency, I bugged and begged my dad for a Raleigh. No pun intended, he tired of
denying my request, citing the danger of flipping over the handlebars when applying the handbrakes.
Much to my lament, the Sixties high-rise bicycle, a 20-inch
wheelie for children became the success story of the decade—the Schwinn Sting-Ray followed by the classic cruiser,
Schwinn Phantom. Phooey! Wider tires and wheels were not my speed. I didn’t aspire to become one out of the one
million cyclists sitting on a Schwinn by the end of the decade.
My dad who braved snowstorms to get his girls what they wanted for
Christmas while we gave Santa all the credit, pulled through again like a reindeer flying through the midnight
clear. That Christmas a black Royce Union balanced on its kickstand in the living room. Okay, the tires weren’t
skinny minis as those on the coveted Raleigh, but they weren’t balloon tires either. Foot brakes rather than
handbrakes would pull all the stops, but its appearance passed muster with me.
That winter I contented myself bike riding down the basement until
Spring. By then my bike was road ready-- pimped with colorful streamers on the hand grips, a wire basket suspended
from the handlebars, and a foxtail dangled from the rear fender. I thought I was a big wheel taking to Angell Road
and the cul de sac on Linfield Circle. You might say my own tires deflated the day I rode too close to the edge of
the embankment in my backyard and tumbled off of it into the woods, my bike landing on top of me. As usual, my
sister had my back and screamed for my mother to save me.
By the time Mother scrambled down the hillside I’d gotten my wind
back after the handlebar thrust itself into my abdomen during the plunge. Seeing I wasn’t the worst for wear, my
mother picked up the Royce Union and flung it aside. After checking me for major wounds and finding only scrapes
and scratches, she gave my hind quarters a good whack as a reaction to my foolhardiness. Though a liberal when
applying lethal Mercurochrome, she was a right wing conservative when it came to doling out sympathy. If there were
more mothers like mine there’d be a few less wusses in the world.
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