40+ years of cycling for the fun of it

As I usually do on Father’s Day, I had time to reflect on many things. Since I also happen to have seven boxes of family photos to go through, I figured I would take a peek at some. Specifically, I was looking for a photo of my dad helping me the day we took off my training wheels. Sadly, I couldn’t find it. But I know it’s one of the thousands of prints I have. And a great memory too. Dads are pretty awesome.

Based on photos from my childhood, I’ve been riding bicycles for 43 years, give or take a few months. During that time, I rode for many reasons.  As a youngster, it’s how we got around the neighborhood. Why walk, when you could get to your friend’s house in a fraction of the time on two wheels? And we explored the woods around us. That included speeding through the Civil War cemetery that was surely haunted. If we hadn’t moved, I’m certain I would have worn the tires off that little yellow bike.

Arriving in California in the mid-70s, I embraced BMX. It was in its infancy. One day, the Schwinn with a banana seat was all the rage, and then the Scrambler was the next big thing. I didn’t realize at the time, but I lived in the epicenter of BMX. Mongoose was 20 miles away, in Chatsworth. My brother briefly worked at Redline, and a schoolmate’s family owned Jag. Another friend’s dad welded Landing Gear for SE Racing. Visiting local tracks, I was riding with kids whose families were the backbone of the industry at the time. My Mongoose and then Redline were how I got to school, baseball practice, and every place else.

Even after getting my license in the 80s, I was still riding my BMX bike around. That changed at graduation, when my mom bought me my first mountain bike. It was a Nishiki Ariel, from Supergo. This was 1987, so Rockshox and CamelBak weren’t even invented yet. We rode fully rigid bikes with elliptical chainrings and sketchy brakes. Climbing hills we would have had to walk on our BMX bikes was a gamechanger. Bombing down fire roads with reckless abandon was an adrenaline rush. Eventually, I got a Trek when the Ariel got stolen, but still no suspension.

And then I got introduced to road bikes. A friend’s mom was a frequent Race Across America competitor, and they had a few spare parts in the garage. Well, dozens of bikes in parts. Building up a Ciocc and Basso, I enjoyed 2×5, 2×6, and I think even 2×7 speeds. “Twelve speed” meant something different back then. Later, I owned a Trek, Cannondale, and even a Felt. While I enjoyed the social aspect of riding with my brother and some friends, it wasn’t the same thrill I got from a mountain bike.

Returning to my fatter tire roots, I bought another MTB – the Cannondale Super V. Creaky, and questionable efficiency, it didn’t last long. Another industry friend hooked me up with a full suspension frame from Park-Pre. They had gone out of business, but he had a non-production frame with a Horst link rear suspension and Fox shock. Although it was an ugly mix of straight and rectangular tubing, it rode great. Paired with a Manitou Air fork, I had a light bike that was fast through the rough stuff. And I went fast on that bike. When looking for a good way to describe it, “crashingest” comes to mind. How many “over the bars” experiences, did I have?  I got to the point where I would instinctively reach back to catch the seat before it hit me in the head.

Heading into my mid-30s, I ended up racing BMX in Australia. Around that time, I also built my dream bike. After months of back and forth with the builder, I took delivery of a tandem MTB frame, in titanium. Building that up was made easier by a trip back to states. We returned with 22 pieces of luggage (for five of us). That’s a lot of parts. I’m sure my dad was relieved not to have to make his weekly trips to the Post Office, to send me spares.

Of course, we lived a very short distance from the beach at the time. So the very same day that I started my first bike shop job, I did the unthinkable. We took a bus across town, and picked up two Electra cruisers from my new employer’s competitor. Although I rode different bikes to my day job, and my part-time job at Hadley’s in Lambton, I never did ride that cruiser to work.

Returning to the ‘Merica!, I ended up in Utah. No more year-round cycling. I sold off a few of my 8 bicycles, but still rode a bit. Dabbled in cyclocross and single speeds, plus one fixed gear. Increasing responsibility at work, life (and wife) changes, meant less ride time. Cycling lost out to motorcycles for a few years. But Utah drivers spoiled motorcycles for me, and I put more miles on my fat bike than my Harley the last year I owned both.

My wife and I bought a new home this year. Luckily, we have less traffic in our new location. More importantly, a bike path weaves through our neighborhood. Naturally, this compelled me to get us some new bicycles, suited for the slow pace of evening rides along the river. And each time we go out for a ride, I realize that one thing never changes – bicycles are fun. Better than walking, and easier on these old joints and wrecked knees. Plus that breeze in your face. If you haven’t ridden lately, go for a ride. Because you can ride to school, work, or competitively. But nothing beats a good ride for the sheer joy of it.