June Challenge: Encyclopedia of Childhood Bikes

MY FIRST MEMORIES

My first bike was a 16-inch bike that was red with training wheels. I was the fourth kid in the extended family to learn to ride on it. I have memories of being on that one at the end of our sloped driveway. My dad also had made me a scooter out of a skateboard around that time. I also rolled around on roller skates. I also had a small wagon that I would race against my brother down the drive while he pushed a skateboard sitting down. Of course, I’ve never been risk averse, and my first emergency room visit came at age four when I stood up on his skateboard and rolled down the sloped drive but could not execute the drop in the curb at the end (you can see the drop up in the feature photo).

Photo: Unfortunately, I think the only pictures of any of these wheeled toys were actually 8mm film reels long eaten away by mould. There’s a pic of me on roller skates from then, but I’ve posted it somewhere before.

THE GREEN BIKE

After I learned to ride at age 5 on the red bike (I have distinct memories of the first ride without training wheels), I graduated to a green, girls’ 1970s banana seat bike. I was the third kid to ride this bike. My older cousin moved on to a ten-speed, and I inherited this very well-used bike. I hated it. It had so many dents and paint scratches. It veered left if you let it because of the worn headset. The seat fabric was torn and the foam poked out. I desperately wanted to spruce that thing up and paint it blue.

On the first day of summer vacation, aged 6, I again asked to paint it. My parents again said no. This is the first time I remember going to ride to get out my anger. That ride is memorable because I crashed hard a bit later (not related to the anger) and dislocated my elbow. That resulted in my next ER visit the following day, when my elbow had swollen to the size of a grapefruit. The surgical repair took 3.5 hours and required four pins, 18 stitches on one side of my elbow and 24 on the other, 4 days in hospital, and an entire summer where I was not allowed to do ANYTHING because my arm was just wrapped in gauze. It couldn’t be put in a cast. That was a very long summer. The scars are large and noticeable enough I still get comments on them nearly 40 years later.

Photo: I know a picture exists of me with the green bike and my brother with his bike (which my dad eventually turned into my first Chopper bike) standing in front of an old Ford Ranchero my dad owned at the time. I’ve seen that pic. But I’m pretty sure my brother has that picture now. 

So here is a picture from that summer with my arm in a sling with my Grandpa on Fathers Day. My dad inherited his engineering talent from this man who was a machine designer. He designed machines used on factory lines for various manufacturers, including GM. He was also a pilot who built a biplane from the ground up and was active in the Experimental Aircraft Association – he’d fallen in love with airplanes after seeing “Barnstormer” demonstrations in his childhood in the 1920s.

THE COLUMBIA BLUE ANGEL – 1983

All the while I rode that old green banana seat bike, I longed for the Columbia Blue Angel at Ayr-way. Every time we went there, I would disappear to the toy section and go and look at it. It was at least 9 months of desperately wanting that bike until I got it. I LOVED that bike. It was MY first bike that no one else had worn in before me. It had drawings of clouds and seagulls on the seat cover and chain guard. It had clouds on the fenders. I spent countless hours on this bike. My absolute favourite kiddo activity was bike riding.

Photo: The only photo my dad has ever found of the Blue Angel bike is this one. In it, the bike is just parked in the background behind the old 1960s Econoline pick-up my dad had for 5 or 6 years. I can’t re-create this photo for many reasons. But it does give me the chance to show you why my dad could build me such cool Chopper bikes.

This is the 1932 Ford Roadster my dad built from the ground up in the garage, sourcing all the parts from the wrecking yard. Anytime I smell resin being used, I’m instantly transported to childhood, as it seemed like it took him a long time to do the fibreglass body. He painted this car yellow (you can see it in the background in the feature pic). This pic would have been in 1985. He finished the car in 1987. All man hours on this car were his – he did absolutely everything.

I think the funny placement of the baseball cap on my head is because my dad would have told me to turn the cap around so he could see my face in the picture. I ALWAYS wore a baseball cap as a kid – from about age 5 to 12 or 13. This one had a Sam the Eagle on the front – the mascot for the 1984 LA Olympics.

Photo: This pic shows the roadster in about 2007, on its second paint job. My dad eventually re-built aspects of the ’32 Ford Roaster and painted it black. He also built a replica 1937 stock car. He first built a shed in the backyard to build/store the ’37 car in before he started on the car.

I am only one of two people that ever rode as a passenger in the race car, because it had no doors. And most Indiana people are too fat or inflexible to back themselves in through the window. You had to put your right foot on the step, then put your left leg/foot into the car. Then you had to duck and limbo your body into the car, as your right foot/leg on the external step then followed you into the car. This meant that at one point your butt was in the seat and your right leg was at about a 60 degree angle and about even with your face. Getting out of the car was just as complicated.

My dad sold this car before he moved to Colorado. He was very sad to part with it, but he could not afford the trailer transport of 1200 miles for two cars. Plus he had no shed for it in Colorado. He has since done more work on the ’32 Ford Roadster and still drives it around town to this day.

This is how my dad could build me all sorts of wheeled contraptions as a kid, including the Chopper bikes in a previous post. He can engineer, build and wire up anything from spare parts! (He also built most of the furniture in my childhood home). I’m very proud of him… though I didn’t inherit ANY of those artistic or mechanical abilities.

LIL’ DEMON

After the Columbia Blue Angel, I graduated in 4th grade to a red, Huffy girl’s 10-speed with an odometer and speedometer. The ‘bike computer’ was the most memorable part of that bike. I started getting into BMX/freestyle bikes in 6th grade, and my birthday present was a Huffy BMX bike. It sucked. It quickly became apparent it really wasn’t meant for trick riding. So much of that year, I lusted after a DYNO DETOUR. I saved allowance money and my parents contributed the rest, and I got my first REAL bike store (not dept store) bike on my 13th birthday. This is the bike that saw bicycles become a lifestyle for me. I rode it everyday for the next seven years. It got upgraded along the way. I transferred all the good components to a different frame/fork when I was 20 and rode that next bike (which was my dream freestyle bike – of which I have no pictures!) for about 18 months until I left uni.

(In this period, I also had the two Chopper bikes featured previously, a Le Run skatebike, and a couple of crappy 10-speed commuter bikes at uni).

Photo: Freshly home from the bike store on my 13th birthday.

Photo: Age 17. One of my ‘senior pictures’. I’m wearing a Bob Mould t-shirt – my favourite artist then and now. That curl in my hair was all natural. This photo was taken on the campus of Ball State University.

Pics in the last few years with my really dark-ringed eyes remind me that I’m still not well!

I was a huge nerd and very into my academics. I pushed myself very hard to always get straight A’s. Yet, my hometown high school was awful and I threatened to drop out, get my GED and go straight to university after 10th grade (my SAT and ACT scores were high enough to get in).

Luckily, Indiana somehow managed to do something progressive and had started a residential high school for gifted and talented 11th and 12th grade students with the first class in 1991. The school is on the Ball State University campus in one of the old dorms – Wagoner Hall. (The pic above is near there.)

So I applied and was accepted and got to hang out with a whole bunch of other people just like me who loved academics. The coursework was very hard – harder than any of my first-year uni classes – but I thrived on it and finally fit in with a group. The administrators of this school affectionately call all the alumni: “The nerd herd”.

The great thing was that we just had to check in at certain hours, so I had the freedom to ride my bike anywhere, as long as I was back for check-in. So I roamed far and wide on Lil Demon, all over town (playing pick-up basketball games in very rough parts of town) and all over the countryside. I practiced freestyle tricks in parking lots all over town. And it was nothing to do a 60-mile ride on that single-speed bike to nearby towns and back on weekends.

(And, if you know my love of Kermit, you’ll be happy to know I came out of my super-shy shell and auditioned to give a graduation speech. I was chosen, and my speech was based on the work of Jim Henson and the song ‘The Rainbow Connection’. I had a Kermit puppet on stage who waved a rainbow windsock at the end of the speech).

And my favourite musician – featured on my t-shirt at age 17 – can still rip it up 40-some years after he got his start. This new single was just released and it is savage. The date would have been organised before the recent riots, but they fit in with the angst in this song, too (though it’s a protest song about the 1980s response to AIDS and America’s more recent response – lack of – to the pandemic, among other things). It’s all a little ironic, since Minneapolis is where this guy got his start. Apparently, the new album is fierce… which means I CANNOT WAIT until its September release. Some things never change.

Nerdy chick in Australia who loves to ride and is accompanied by the crew: 'The Commander' Verne and the 'Mental Health Specialist' Kermit.

8 response to "June Challenge: Encyclopedia of Childhood Bikes"

  1. By: Suzanne Posted: June 8, 2020

    I really enjoyed your bicycle biography. Great before and after takes!

  2. By: gregblood Posted: June 8, 2020

    It’s not fair to the rest of us when you get to look the same at age 17(?) as you do at 40-something(?). I positively love reading your stories.

    I’m pretty sure Bob Mould is about the same age as I am. I’d like to think that If I could sing and if I could play an instrument, I’d put the same passion and energy into my music. Alas, I fear it might come out sounding like Lawrence Welk on downers.

    I don’t think I’ve mentioned that I saw Bob Mould in a solo performance. I was with my son who was about 16 at the time, so I’m guessing somewhere around the year 2002. It was outdoors in Minneapolis and he was opening for Semisonic — another Minneapolis act that achieved some fame for their song “Closing Time.” They were a good band, but it was a travesty of justice that they weren’t opening for Bob. Anyway, it was an acoustic set and it was nothing like any acoustic set we had ever seen. Bob was literally tearing the strings out of his guitar and screaming his lyrics. Pretty impressive.

    • By: The Navigator Posted: June 14, 2020

      I’ve seen Bob play solo twice – 1996 and 2005. Both times he played acoustic and electric. I think he is much better with a band though. And I like his current lineup better than any of his other ones besides Greg and Grant. His lineup during his SUGAR years played hard (I went to 3 SUGAR concerts), but they didn’t play nearly as tight as his band now. I love that you exposed your son to Bob 🙂

  3. By: Rich-Illinois Posted: June 8, 2020

    I too enjoyed your bicycle biography.
    That chopper looks like Id be ready to go over backwards on it.

  4. By: Scooter Posted: June 9, 2020

    I am so envious! After much searching, I’ve failed to find a photo of me on a bike, trike or even a wagon at any age younger than about age 25. Awesome post though.

  5. By: Tony Cullimore Posted: June 11, 2020

    How good to have such a positive Father and (I am guessing) Mother too. Great for you to see useful things being made from what others would have seen as scrap.

    Thanks for the Emily Bicycle History lesson – I reckon you had a happy growing up.

    • By: The Navigator Posted: June 14, 2020

      Yes, Tony, I had a happy childhood. I lived in a crappy town in a crappy state, but my family was excellent. My parents were wonderful – quite strict, but very supportive and encouraging of things I showed interest in. My grandpa in those pics had a great relationship with all the grandkids, too. I helped him work on his biplane, sorted hundreds and hundreds of screws and bolts, and he taught me all about AC/DC currents and how to use tools. He would build little replica machines with me and we did science experiments, too. He taught me all about the Big Bang theory and made me read Stephen Hawking’s book at the time. He was so determined that I would be an engineer… but, alas, I do not have an engineer brain!

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