Behind the Wheels

Every summer when my wife and I head to the West Coast for a little sunshine and sand, the only intentional exercise we get is a walk on the beach or a dip in the ocean. So this year we decided our vacation equation needed to get behind the wheels. We skipped the flight, racked the bikes onto the back of the SUV, and drove 1,100 Utah/Arizona/Nevada desert miles to bridge the gap between Colorado and California. Now the Pacific Coast sun shines above, the Pacific Ocean waves crash below, and the bikes… well, the bikes just beckon to be ridden every day.

It’s already happened, as I suspected it would.  When we took our first pedal tour around this little seaside town, I saw him for a few fleeting moments.  He was a younger, thinner, blonder version of me.  He was seated confidently behind the drop handlebars of a white Nishiki Regal ten-speed, focused solely on the road in front of him.  He was dressed in Converse tennis shoes, ballcap in place of a bike helmet, white socks halfway to the knees.  When this kid wasn’t body surfing, playing basketball, or working the evening shift at McDonald’s, he was logging mile after mile on his bicycle, in search of driver’s license freedoms, even if he wasn’t old enough to have one.

My fleeting companion is the “me” of forty-five years ago.  In most respects it’s a long period of time.  In others we could be talking about last week.  Bicycling was serious thread in the fabric of my childhood.  It was a way to leave the familiar behind, to pursue esoteric wonders beyond the streets I grew up on.  Bicycling asked the questions, “Where would you like to go?” “Why?”  “And how far?”  At fifteen years old, the answers were limitless.

The Schwinn “Lemon Peeler”

My love of cycling began at a young age (and continues today in weekly spin classes at the gym).  I still remember the very first hand-me-down bike my brothers and I shared – a small blue two-wheeler with no gears, the kind you had to pedal backward to brake.  From there I graduated to a glam Schwinn Lemon Peeler Sting Ray, the all-yellow beauty with the fenders above fat tires, sporting the signature banana seat.

But my Nishiki Regal ten-speed brought bicycling to a whole new level.  I bought it myself: months of hard-earned allowance and odd-jobs cash plunked down for the biggest purchase of my young life.  The Nishiki granted me access to the more sophisticated language of bicycling; terms like “chain stay”, “saddle”, and “derailleur”, even if I couldn’t afford the Raleigh or Motobecane imports more deserving of those words.

Also, the Nishiki meant bike maintenance became a labor of love instead of a chore; a bonding afternoon with friends.  The shade of my dad’s carport colored our “workshop”, where we dismantled, fine-tuned, and reassembled over and over; my friends and I exchanging tools and advice for each other’s spare parts.  I still remember the final touch when the Nishiki was all back together: the pristine white finishing tape wrapped carefully around those drop handlebars, signifying it was finally time to ride.

I was never far behind…

One story of me and my Nishiki will always stand out.  It was all about beating the school bus home.  When the bell rang after my final class, I’d sprint to the rack, jump on my bike, and launch into the six-mile trek back to my house.  The bus meanwhile, needed several minutes to load its passengers, not to mention dozens of stops before it would’ve dropped me.  It was always a neck-and-neck battle as I’d pass the bus and then it’d pass me.  Most times I’d lose the race by mere seconds, easing up on the pedals in exhausted frustration.  But every now and then I’d get the victory.  Did some of my friends deliberately take their time exiting the bus, knowing I was in hot pursuit?  Maybe.

In 1979, a few months after I turned seventeen, a wonderful little film called Breaking Away won the Academy Award for Best Picture.  The movie centered around four friends, bicycling, and Bloomington, Indiana’s “Little 500” bike race, but it was mostly about coming of age.  Learning life’s lessons while putting the miles on the pedals.

Little wonder Breaking Away‘s lead character was named Dave.

[Note: If anything about this post resonates with you, be sure to read Steve Rushin’s Sting-Ray Afternoons.  The author’s childhood is set in Minnesota, but the growing-up memories are remarkably similar to my own.  Even the kid on the cover looks a little like me.  Steve and I could’ve been brothers.]

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

15 thoughts on “Behind the Wheels

  1. Dave, you’ve reminded me it’s time to put air in the tires of my bike, which sits in the garage, year after year, never taken out for a spin. Good intentions aside, I bought it on a whim, more in love with the idea of biking than the actual exercise. I would ride it somewhere, say down to the library, and then be too tired to ride it back.

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    1. Got to say Joni, it’s exhilarating to be on the bicycle again, however short, however slow the ride. We took our tour around the neighborhood last night after dinner, all the while watching a spectacular sunset over the ocean. A little sore afterward, but no regrets whatsoever.

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  2. I, too, loved riding my bicycle with friends … have wheels, will travel. After my friends were gone off to college or moving out of state, I still rode my bike by myself. On the 4th of July 1976, I was hit by a drunk driver coming out of a bar, went through a stop sign and she did not yield to me. The bike was torn up but I was not, escaping with just a lot of bruises and some road rash. My parents’ insurance paid for the repair and I spent the day in court after the woman was charged with DUIL. She said the sun was low on the horizon and she didn’t see me but when I was on the ground, she stopped and helped me up and I was okay. This was far from the truth. She sped off and the witness who was sitting on her porch, got up and went into the house. I wheeled the damaged bike to the police station, 1/2 mile away and I knew the desk sergeant as I graduated high school with him. I had most of her license number, knew the car make and model and gave a good description of her, so they nabbed her the next day. Her attorney got her off the hook with a “rolling stop” violation, so she only got points on her license for a moving violation. Angry that I spent my day off at court and was very disgusted with the whole procedure, I have never climbed on a bike again. I do have an exercise bike though, but that’s not the adventure you speak of. An 80+-year-old walker at the Park takes his mountain bike to the local Metroparks I frequent. There is a popular 49-mile loop which connects three or four Metroparks. He only does part of that loop, but has inspired me, when retired, to buy one and get back on a bike again.

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    1. If you were blogging in 1976, Linda, no doubt this story would’ve been a post all its own. It is remarkable the tales people fabricate to distance themselves from their mishaps. Thank God you were okay, even if it meant your memories of America’s bicentennial celebration were compromised. Regardless, I hope you get on the bicycle again one of these days. There’s newfound joy in the experience when you haven’t pedaled in a long time.

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      1. You’re right about that Dave. I will get back on the bike again when I get more time when I’m retired. My boss is 74 and he rides his bike from Spring through Fall during the work day, weather and schedule permitting. He is a solo practitioner and keeps his bike right at the office and rides from the office to Belle Isle. It is five miles each way, plus he rides around the island, logging in about 25 miles for each trip. He used to ride to work and the round trip is 18 miles, but he got hit by a car, an auto worker coming out of the Chrysler plant after shift change, so he didn’t want to ride anymore in the morning rush hour.

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  3. Loved this story, especially racing the school bus. My late husband was an avid cycler and we criss-crossed Denver when we lived there, tracing all the bike trails. The longest was a ride from the rock cut west of Denver to Georgetown, where we stayed overnight – 8 hours up, 4 hours down. I’m not in that kind of shape these days!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t imagine biking from Denver to Georgetown, Ruth. There are some serious ups (and downs) in that ride, especially if the bike path mirrors I-70. It seems every time we drive on I-70 we see bicyclists tackling Vail Pass, probably starting back in Frisco (or in Vail if heading east). Nope, not for me. As you say, there are plenty of flat paths in the Denver Basin which are satisfying-enough experiences.

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  4. My family and I did the Breck-Frisco ride several years ago – so, so nice (especially with the great lunch places in Frisco). And Glenwood Canyon. Glenwood may be the most spectacular ride I’ve ever done.

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  5. I loved this! Our experiences often vary, but in one way we match up perfectly – while you rode your Lemon Peeler I was rocking a Pea Picker.

    I should have chosen something more like yours for my next bike, as I settled for a 5 speed Schwinn Collegiate Sport. Which I gave to a friend within the last 10 years. 10 speeds would have given me a lot more use out of that bike.

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  6. I was a little taken aback when I found the picture of the Lemon Peeler. It was more of a “statement” bike than I care to admit. But the names were great, weren’t they? Pretty sure there was also a Cherry Picker.

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