Funny; the things you measure your life by as you lie awake trying to sleep at night.
Quite often I run through all the houses I’ve lived in and imagine my way from room to room…. Last night however was bikes.
The first bike I ever owned around 1970 was a tricycle with pedals on the front wheel, streamered handles and a step on the back for a friend to stand on. The tassles were plastic and went with the tassles on my cowboy trousers quite well… I think think I spent a fair amount of time in the front garden lounging over the handlebars wearing my cowboy suit and spurs and pretending to smoke candy fags James Dean stylee.
I can remember vividly the noise and feeling of pedalling hell for leather down the passage between our house and the neighbours hard tyres rattling on the concrete and streamers flying.
The next one logically is the bike with stabilisers… it was dark red and sky blue with thick chunky, white rim tires.
I would have been five when the stabilisers came off.. my dad gave me a push and away I went along the pavement – as far as I can remember on the first attempt- he shouted ‘keep pedalling!’ so I did… I got to the end of the street and realised i didn’t know how to stop so just turned the corner and kept pedalling. Eventually by repeating this trick I turned the corner back within sight of home and my dad who now shouted ‘use the brake!’ and thus I learned to ride a bicycle.
I must have been eight or nine when I asked for a bike for Christmas. In my head it was a shiny red, cross-barred racer…. when it turned up on Christmas morning it was a green, small wheeled shopper with a back pedal brake. Possibly one of the biggest disappointemnts of my childhood… up there with not being allowed a dog or a ferret.
I still have no idea what possessed my parents to buy me that bike… I can only assume as we had very little money that it must have been cheap. But I rode it… I passed my cycling proficiancy test on it and I went miles on it. As long as I was home in time for meals it didn’t matter how far I went and the only panic I remember was finding myself on the outskirts of Fleetwood one afternoon and suddenly realising it was a long way home. I could see Blackpool tower tiny in the distance… and the mantra of childhood was ‘if lost look for the tower’…. it looked very, very small.
At sixteen I decided enough was enough, I needed to get places and buses cost money so I went and chatted to my local friendly bike repair man, who behind his bike shop had a large room full of bike bits. He gave me the basic parts of a bike… a frame, forks, wheels…. I think at this point my parents stepped in and approved of my proaction and paid for things like new tyres and then I built a bike. I don’t think it had a gear system as that looked complicated and with the positivity and fitness of youth I knew if i wanted to go up a hill I just needd to pedal harder. Simple.
I suspect my dad oversaw what I was doing… I certainly remember him digging out a tin of ballbrearings and explaining why the forks and frame just weren’t really compatable. We got round the problem with some spacers… they had to be kept tight or else the steering disconnected from the bike – (but I only came a cropper once with that, one early dawn riding home sans lights up a winding country lane… I turned the handlebars and the bike carried straight on into a hedge- lesson learnt). The bike was then painted (strangely enough) the exact same shade of green my dad had just painted the garage door… and that homemade bike did me as transport for almost a decade.
I lived in Nottingham half of that time and cyled up and down the Peaks on it and best of all it always looked so crap and homemade nobody ever nicked it. I gave that bike away when I left Nottingham, along with most of my belongings. I think the person I gave it to got rid of it after a nasty accident (they obviously didn’t keep the spacers tight).
Then a year later, back in Nottingham and pregnant another bike was needed. This time a really good old fashioned ladies three gear shopper from an auction… a wide leather saddle… a wicker basket. I think it cost me a tenner…. and with the addition of one of those old fashioned black metal and pvc child-seats (the old fashioned ones without leg guards or straps) it was perfect.
We moved out to rural Leicestershire and then, a year later, even more rural Suffolk my (by then) husband worked away a lot… I didn’t drive and I never lived closer than a mile to a shop. Swimming lessons were a fifteen mile round trip….and everything was done by bike with my daughter on the back. I totted up one week and found I was doing sixty or seventy miles a week on it.
The final straw came when the child outgrew the seat and still needed to get three miles each way to school and back … there was no option but to learn to drive. With driving came laziness and my final bike…. a brand spanking new purple hybrid (road/mountain) bike… it has lots of gears…its still in my garage and I really should ride it more often.