I really enjoy reading about how folks got started with riding and racing bikes, so I thought I would put my pen to paper and tell you mine.
It all started with an old Kent banana seat bike. For years, I begged my parents for a bike. Living adjacent to a four-lane highway (Concord Pike and by adjacent, I mean ½ block) and my front street being a 3-lane road (Broom Street), it was not happening. I remember going to friends of my parents’ house and seeing a “hopped up” Schwinn Sting- Ray with BMX style bars, flat black paint, and aggressive knobby tires. In case you were wondering, it was not meant to be, even though it was for sale and I really wanted it. I do think that is where my off road story begins though, because that was the first off road bike I wanted and wanted to copy. This would have been 1979 or so, so BMX was just getting started and most kids made their own BMX bikes themselves from whatever they could get their hands on. The kids in Cali had been doing this for years and the East Coast did have a BMX racing scene at the time, but most kids in my neighborhood had wanne-be BMX bikes.
Around 1980 or so, my grandfather was selling an apartment building he owned. Let me explain how my family owned an apartment building for a minute, so no one gets the wrong idea. The Italian Immigrant method of home ownership involved buying a house and then cutting it up into apartments. Most of the time, you rented the extra space to family, but if not, you rented to close friends. Even when you moved your family to another place in later years, you never sold the first one - - you just kept it and rented it out. You knew your tenants well and you took care of the place. So back to the story, my grandfather was selling the apartment building and there was a bike in the basement from a tenant many years ago. My grandfather contacted the former tenant and they had no desire to come get the bike, so it became mine. I am guessing that it was a Kent, but I really do not know for sure. My mom was not happy at all. She had never learned to ride a bike as a child and saw no reason for me to learn either. It was a red stingray style frame, red banana seat, tall chrome handlebars (ape hanger style), and the best part was a knobby rear tire, white wall of course. It was a single speed with coaster brake. It needed grips, so off to Pep Boys to get some new ones (Black Hunt Wilde’s motor cross style) and a patch kit for the rear tube.
It took me a while to learn how to ride the bike, mostly because I learned to ride in a 15 X 20 paved backyard (another city thing - - remove 80% of the grass and concrete it over - - less to mow, no mud, and everyone did it). I do remember riding down the street and in a parking lot with my father running behind, holding the sissy bar so I did not fall over. And like most kids, the first time he let go and I rode by myself and did fine until I realized he was no longer there and of course I crashed.
Riding was good though and my Dad took me to area parking lots to ride quite often. Wanting to be like Fonzie and having an abundance of wood around the house (Dad was a carpenter), it did not take long for a ramp to be built in the backyard. This was before I understood what getting air really meant, so I rode over the wooden ramp, let the front wheel drop to the ground, and then the rear. A bit like riding over a log, but I thought I was jumping.
One day, after “sessioning” the ramp in the backyard, I realized I had a decal on the down tube that was cracked. Kicking back on the deck, looking at my damaged sticker and drinking Kool Aid lemonade, I came to the realization that the sticker was not cracked, but the frame was. Said my first curse word, and went inside to tell my father. It seems that riding off the ramp and not jumping would allow the down tube (curved, like the “modern day” specialized MTB’s) to strike the ramp. My father was not pleased and even though I did not mention the ramp, I am sure he knew the break was caused by something stupid that I did.
Being from an average working family, a new bike was not possible for a bit. I probably could have obtained a frame from somewhere and moved the parts over, but it was 1980 and I did not know anyone that had a pile of bike parts just sitting around (yet). I think it was Christmas that year or the next, but a Blue and Yellow Huffy Blue Thunder made its way into my life. It was a whole new world now . . . . (To be continued).