My first bicycle was a Dutch one-speed that served me from the first grade all the way through high school. I was reminded of that bike a few years ago while reading my grandmother’s diary from the year she lived with us when I was a child in the Netherlands. Her diary entry just recounted my birthday and noted that I was really excited about the new bike I received from my parents. The story reminded me of that day and all that the bike represented.
I know my memory is less reliable than I would like it to be, but my recollection of that first bike is that it gave me freedom to explore places that were previously unknown. I could range as far as a series of old windmills on the edge of town where my friends and I would climb up several stories to survey the countryside. I also remember a particularly nasty crash on that bike that left several layers of my skin on some neighborhood pavement. The bike was a little big for me when I received it on my seventh birthday and that allowed me to grow into it as the years passed.
The bike came with us when we moved to Ashland in the 1960s. I rode it all over town and even took illicit trips out to Emigrant Reservoir, several miles from my home. I don’t think my parents ever knew just how much freedom the bike afforded me; or maybe they realized that kids need to explore, despite the dangers associated with childhood judgment. I cleverly managed to get into trouble on my bicycle by riding it in ways and places that its manufacturers never envisioned. I was stopped once while riding at night by an angry motorist who complained that I didn’t have a light. I proudly showed him my generator and light without disclosing that I had forgotten to engage it.
The bike’s final years in Bend are a sad story of betrayal by a callow youth who sold his once prized possession for $5 after getting a driver’s license. I won’t go into all the new freedoms made possible by driving a car, except to say that my range of both approved and indiscreet activities expanded considerably.
Obviously, I have become sentimental in my old age. The freedoms achieved by biking today are different than those I gained as a child. There is a kind of silence you sometimes notice when riding a bike that you can never experience in a car. Bicycles, if you ride them enough, can free you from unwanted pounds and help you enjoy a healthier dotage.
I’ve neglected my bike in recent months; so I’m looking forward to this year’s Bicycle Commute Challenge. I will be out of town for a week or so in the middle of September, but my goal is to ride every day I’m in Albany. I hope others will find some inspiration in memories of their old bikes and hop on their new ones as members of the City of Albany team.