Recently, a long lost memory came back to me when I watched a five-year old girl learning to ride her bike in my neighborhood. Her dad ran alongside as she began to pedal her brand new pink bicycle complete with pink streamers flowing from each bike handle. As she began to gain momentum, dad was jogging alongside trying to protect her from a potential fall. When I looked beneath her pink bike helmet into her eyes, it was there that I glimpsed that long-forgotten feeling of brand-new independence that comes with the ability to ride a bike.
I learned to ride a bike on North Third Street in North Baltimore. Once I mastered that bike, I had the freedom to travel the length of an entire block. Better yet, I had faster access to all of the neighborhood kids. I lived right across from the Paul family: Becky, Connie, Tom, Linda, and Kenny. Down the street, there was Danny and Mary Stimmell. Sometimes, Laura Smith and Lynn Cameron and their siblings visited grandparents on our block so that added even more fun. And on my little red bike, fun was always close at hand.
By the time we moved to the corner of Broadway and Beecher Street in first grade, I was an accomplished bike rider allowed to even ride around the corner as opposed to just up and down the block on Third Street. Bikes were critically important to many of our activities on Beecher Street. Always, our freedom was linked to our bikes. First, we were able to visit one another’s houses on our bikes. Soon, we were going to the library or the IGA. As time passed, we were able to ride to Powell School, to the Little League field, and eventually all the way across town.
Besides transportation, our bikes provided other entertainment. As example, a bike, a deck of playing cards and a clothespin created the best neighborhood noisemakers. Sometimes we used the garden hose to wash our bikes. Usually, this activity ended with more wet kids than clean bikes. And when all else failed, we would try bike stunts like riding with no hands or standing on the seats. This occasionally ended in bike accidents that caused bumps, bruises, and probably a few stitches.
When my neighbor, Ron Bean, started a paper route and purchased an olive green Schwinn Collegiate bike with his earnings, I was jealous of his new ride. Eventually, I was able to buy the girls’ model of the same bike in bright blue. This was the era when we finally achieved our highest level of bike freedom: the privilege of riding our bikes to the Wixom Quarry. Armed with a beach towel around our necks and a dollar in our pockets, we pedaled two miles for a day of fun and sun with our friends. I cannot remember feeling more free than on those bike rides to the Quarry.
My final memory of complete freedom provided by our bikes was pedaling the five miles to Stuckey’s near I-75 at the Van Buren exit. Zipping along Angling Road seemed like the ultimate adventure. Once we got to Stuckey’s, we loved looking at the display full of gag gifts: a fake ice cube with a fly in it, whoopee cushions, and chewing gum that turned teeth black.
Sadly, this is my final memory of liberty on our bikes. I suspect it was then that we began to dream of new adventures that could only be obtained with a driver’s license and a car.