I learned to ride a bike the hard way. Let me explain. When I was seven years old, it seemed like I was the only kid in the neighborhood who didn’t have a bike. My parents didn’t have much money, so they couldn’t afford this luxury for their kids. My mom had an old bike in the garage that she had brought into the marriage, but it weighed about 60 lbs. We could barely hold that behemoth upright, let alone ride it.
Up the block from us lived two sisters named Peg and Pam Hoilland. They were twins; one was right-handed, and one was left-handed. They were a couple years older than me and both rode 26-inch bikes. Back then, girls’ bikes had no cross bar, apparently so they could ride their bikes while wearing dresses. One afternoon I was out playing when the identical Hoilland twins rolled up on their identical bikes. Since I was left-handed too, I asked Peg the lefty if I could try riding her bike. She said, “Sure.”
She walked the bike back to the end of the block which was slightly uphill from where I lived and told me what to do. The bike was too big for me to sit on the seat, but since there was no cross bar, I could stand on the pedals and roll downhill. I grabbed the handle bars, placed my right foot on the right pedal and with a little boost from Peg, started rolling back down the sidewalk standing on the pedals with the seat pressing into my back. I found it easy enough to balance, but as I picked up speed I realized I didn’t know how to stop! As I got closer to my house, the speed increased. There was a section of sidewalk in front of our house that stuck up a couple inches. I hit the bump and the bike veered off to the left and ran smack into the big oak tree next to our driveway. The bike stopped immediately, but my body continued forward and my crotch hit the front of the frame with a frightful thud. The bike toppled over slowly, and I toppled with it. I rolled over onto my back and held myself as I groaned in the sort of pain that only a boy or man can understand.
Later that summer, my dad took me and my sister over to a man’s house who lived a few blocks from us. He fixed up old bikes and sold them out of his basement. Dad had $30 to spend, so my sister and I each picked out a bike that cost $15. I picked out an orange tank with big fat tires and no fenders; my sister picked out an old red bike that had a boy’s frame. Dad drove away while my sister and I hopped on our new old bikes for the ride home. Two blocks from home I heard a crash behind me and then heard my sister crying. I turned around to see what happened. The frame of the old red bike she was riding had literally cracked in half. She lay sprawled in the middle of the street between the two chunks of bike with bloody scrapes on her knees and elbows. Apparently, the bike fixer guy was not a great welder.
I rode home to tell dad what had happened and we went back to pick up my sister. We returned the bike to the man and he replaced it with another refurbished beauty. From that day forward, I lived in fear that the same fate might befall me. I was determined to get a new bike and the only way to do that was to get a job and earn my own money. That next spring, I got a paper route. Each day after school and all that summer I delivered 30 Minneapolis Star Tribunes to homes in my neighborhood. I cleared about $15 a month, so by the time the summer was half over I had saved enough to buy a new bike. My dad drove us to a bike shop in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and I bought a beautiful metallic green Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat, high handle bars and a racing slick back tire for $69. I rode that bike everywhere for the next few years.
Each of the stories in the Burgerhead and Mean Jerry series are based on things that happened to me when I was a kid. In Burgerhead and Mean Jerry Become Friends, Burgerhead’s bike is the same style as my Schwinn. Mean Jerry’s bike is the same style as my sister’s. When Mean Jerry forgets to be nice and tries to hit a squirrel, he hits a rock instead. His bike cracks in half and he suffers the same fate as my sister.
The iconic Schwinn Stingray from the mid-60s is now a collector’s item and is being brought back as a vintage style bike. I think I’ll buy one!