A friend of mine recently asked me to put to paper the story of my first bike. It struck a chord with me because I remember my first bike very vividly and the ordeal that I had to go through to get it.
I was 8 years old at the time and living in Port Perry, Ontario. My father ran a Fina gas station there, not a brand that you hear of any more but I still remember the sign and the smell of gas. I have three elder sisters, and for the life of me I can’t recall if they all had their own bikes or not. I do recall however, that my father was adamant on the notion that I wasn’t going to get a bike unless I already knew how to ride one. This meant trial by fire on the bike owned by one of my sisters.
The learning bike was a wretched beast. It had a basket on the front, the seat was too tall for me by far and it had those silvery streamers sticking out of the handlebars. The kind of bike an 8 year old boy would be mortified to be seen riding because there was no mistaking, it was a girls bike.
For the life of me I could not get the hang of balancing on the bike. There was never a thought of training wheels. My sisters had outgrown them and since it was their bike they weren’t going to put them back on just so their crappy little brother could get a new bike. But my eldest sister seeing my struggles came up with the brilliant notion that my problem wasn’t lack of balance, it was lack of speed.
Our house/service station was at the corner of minor highway and gravel service road. The entrance from the highway was pretty flat but part of the property on the gravel road side had a decent sized hill. There were a couple trees and bushes and a ditch at the bottom, but my sister was confident that the speed I got going down this hill would make these obstacles inconsequential. To this day, I still recall the sheer terror of that tumultuous drop. It couldn’t have lasted more than 30 seconds but dodging the trees and bushes and frantically searching for a place in the ditch that looked like I might have a chance not to crash into did in fact make me forget about my balance problems.
In the end, I did crash and cry and my sister got in trouble, but it made something click. I never had the balancing problems after that wild ride. That week I got my brand new bike. It was a thing of beauty. A black 3 speed with a banana seat and the gear shift on the frame right in front of the seat. This was in the days before BMX bikes and ten speeds being a common thing. You still back pedaled to brake.
I don’t have any pictures with that bike in it. I’m sort of glad I don’t though. Many years later I went on a drive around Ontario trying to find the houses we used to live in when I was growing up. Twenty five years changed that mountain of a hill into a mild slope. I’d hate to see what it would have done to the coolest bike ever.