Really Rather Graceful, Mainly
“Do you even ride that thing anymore,” my sister asked me, pointing to my bicycle in a corner of the garage. She seems convinced, now that I walk with a cane, I'm not likely to ride a bicycle. “Why yes, of course I do,” I answered. This is entirely true. If it weren't, I'd still keep my bike. Bicycles have always meant freedom to me.
I was never well coordinated as a kid, much less graceful. I grew up in the 1960s in a fair-sized family, one older brother, three sisters, lots of pets. What we had wasn't new, usually hand-me-downs, but still usable and in good repair, cause my Dad could fix things. All my siblings had bikes, that was a given back in those days on Trinity Road, the outskirts of town. My first bike was a one-speed, kinda beat-up, roughly the right size for me, mostly mine because the three older kids had newer bikes.
And those three knew how to ride, cause kids just did. I was born clumsy and uncoordinated. I tried to figure out bicycling by looking at what they did: sit on the seat, balance, pedal to go forward. Looked easy. I sat on the seat, tried to balance, and tried to get my feet on the pedals, by which time the bike was tipping over. Back to step one. No luck there. And my Dad wasn't that guy from the TV shows, running along side your bike, pushing and encouraging.
Eventually, the Abbotts from down the street somehow got all the neighborhood kids down to their front yard, a long, grassy slope. We lowered the seats on the bikes and coasted, feet easily reaching the ground. Coasting made balancing easy, and once I was coasting and balancing, pedalling was pretty straightforward. In later years, I read books by cycling professionals who taught kids to ride bikes. That turned out to be The Right Way to Teach Biking, as much as there is one.
Now I could ride all the way up to the Abbots and the Petersons, across to the Fosles, and down to the Stewarts, even all the way to Paul's Texaco. We'd ride along the dirt shoulders of Trinity Road, back when it was still a narrow, two-lane road with no great amount of traffic. And when my birthday came and I got my fancier, newer, more stylish five-speed with the big banana seat and the sissy bar and the high handlebars, my freedom of the neighborhood was nearly complete. The house where we went to get my new, used bike is still there, by the way – just to the right as you come in the main entrance of Lake Superior College.
I've had bikes ever since. Due to various sensory problems, I've never had a driver's license, and my basic transportation always had two wheels and pedals. But there was something perfect about that particular five speed. I could travel as fast as I needed to, come within a hair of a dead stop and stay balanced, even coast a bit backwards and downhill with no worries of falling over. I could ride it on the little foot trails through the woods, along the paths by Miller Creek, Chicken Pond, Coffee Pond. Our whole family would ride along the dusty and desolate shoulder of Miller Trunk Highway up to the Target store for groceries, past the abandoned miniature golf place on the corner, and the big billboard that was there in that empty, open field for much of my childhood it seemed: “Coming Soon: The Miller Hill Mall!” I wondered what a Mall was.
If I still had that big purple five-speed, I'd still ride it, not worrying about appearances. And I could go anywhere anyone else could go, and I'd get there eventually. On that five speed, nowhere else, on no other bike, just that one – I was graceful.