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Today's Family Magazine

Riding a bike reminds mother of the freedom of childhood

Aug 22, 2017 11:26AM ● By Today's Family
By Stacy Turner

The year I learned to ride a bike, I had a shiny purple number with a long, bright yellow banana seat.  It wasn’t a new bike, but it was new to me.  I suppose these days it would be referred to as previously owned, but back in the day, it meant freedom. 

Once I mastered bike riding, I’d be able to pedal across the street to watch the sunset over the lake, or ride with my friend to the playground, and eventually, the corner store.  Because a bicycle was a rite of passage that meant freedom, and as a middle child in a large family, exploring the neighborhood unencumbered by siblings was a dream come true. 

So I put my klutzy self to work trying to master the purple monster.  Ever graceful, I ended many a ride by taking a spill in the grass, rolling free of my fallen bike before I got the hang of stopping like a normal human.  I wore out the bottom of my sneakers before I mastered the foot brakes.  But I tamed the purple monster that summer, and together we headed off on adventures. 

But when spring came along and my legs grew longer, I passed my grape-colored friend off to my younger sister and inherited a vintage, light blue Roadmaster bike, way after it was first cool, but before it became cool again.  My young self didn’t appreciate its kitschy charm like the me of today would have, but it got me where I wanted to go, and probably a few places I shouldn’t have bothered with.  Procuring bikes and sporting equipment for six active kids was expensive, even back then, so we made due with hand-me-downs and bided our time.

Eventually, on a major birthday I finally received a brand-new, top-of-the-line ten-speed bike and I thought I was the coolest thing on two wheels.  That was long before the days of mountain bikes, which don’t force riders to pedal bent over the handlebars like participants in the Tour De France, but looking ridiculous in regular street clothes. I’m sure a beginner cyclist could pull it off, but even in my youth, I would never have been confused with an avid cyclist.  Anyway, I was thrilled, and I rode my bike all over our bike-friendly community that summer. Then we moved.

Our new home, situated in a more rural area on a major thoroughfare, was definitely not a bike-friendly community.  My options were to take my life into my own hands and ride with traffic on the street or do laps around my house, alternating between the driveway and our rolling lawn.  But riding up and down grassy hills in the yard was nothing like the feel of the open road of my old neighborhood.  As a result, my bike sat mostly neglected in the garage through my high school years until a younger sibling commandeered it.

Once I graduated from college and had one of my first real jobs, I moved to a quiet little bike-friendly neighborhood.  That spring, I bought myself some brand-new wheels -- a shiny blue mountain bike.  That trusty bike rolled with me through many moves, a marriage, and, 20 years later, two children.

As I dusted it off this spring to train for a local mini-triathlon, I realized the gears no longer worked. When I learned that fixing it would cost around what I originally paid for the bike, my husband convinced me to buy a new one, since I had clearly gotten more than my money’s worth over the years.  It was a momentous occasion when I picked out another shiny blue bike -- this one light blue, with all the gears in perfect working order.  I love my new bike and ride it often.  Training for the race had me pedaling long distances, which wasn’t always of interest to my husband and kids, so once again, biking brought back that same sense of freedom I felt when I first learned to ride.  Interestingly enough, the new bike's back cargo area gives it a similar look to the vintage Roadmaster of my youth, too.  Thankfully, now I’m old enough to appreciate it.