Me and Katina, the "girl next door." I guess I thought riding with the handlebars backward was pretty funny.

I have been cycling since before I can remember. I can safely say cycling is my oldest athletic skill, followed by swimming and downhill skiing. There have been brief forays into golf, tennis, sailing, baseball, basketball, and volleyball, but nothing really stuck more than cycling. Any of my close friends will tell you I really suck at football. I’m okay with that.

Most athletic pursuits pose some risk of injury. I experienced my first “endo” at two years old, resulting in thirteen stitches in my lip and the premature loss of my two front teeth (next was a trip down the basement stairs, but that is another tale).

Following the tricycle incident, I sat with Uncle Jack and read technical publications.


I have no recollection of the incident, but the general consensus is I stuck my foot in the front wheel of my tricycle as Dad was pushing me. The front wheel stopped moving, but Dad, the rest of the tricycle, and my face did not. Our collective linear momentum was converted to angular momentum, and this wondrous ballet of kinematics came to a screeching halt at the sidewalk. In a twisted way, this was my first physics experiment.

Following the infamous tricycle was not a bicycle, but a pedal car I was particularly fond of. Chicks dug the car. I think my earliest memory is one of self-awareness, when I recall thinking “I am three years old” as I was sitting in my pedal car at the back door of my best friend’s house. I don’t remember anything else from that day (or year, for that matter), but it probably involved playing with matchbox cars, getting dirty, and watching Sesame Street, not necessarily in that order. I moved from the pedal car to a hand-me-down Huffy convertible with training wheels that belonged to one of my sisters. It was a “girl’s” style frame with a removable tank to make it look like a boy’s. Initially, I rode without the tube (because it was easier to get on the bike that way), until a friend pointed out the whole “girl’s bike” thing, and yuck, I didn’t want that. After mastering it without training wheels, it became my primary mode of transportation until Tim or Jack Carey from across the street broke the frame while riding down the front steps of St. Mary’s Church. I’m not mad anymore, really.

Chicks dig the car.

For my tenth birthday, I received a bike with curvy handlebars. “Ten speeds” had curvy handlebars, and they were pretty fast. Never mind the fact mine was still a single-speed with a coaster brake- I felt like I was going faster than a bike with straight handlebars, and that’s what counts.  I don’t recall the brand, but it served me well for several years. Then I started upgrading things.

I began tinkering with my bikes, making incremental improvements instead of asking for a whole new bike. Or, maybe I asked for a whole new bike and was shot down, so had to do the next best thing. I took things apart, put them back together, sometimes successfully, and discovered how difficult it was to put the ball bearings back in the hub of a bicycle wheel without using grease (in case you’re wondering, they will fall out and roll around your father’s workshop floor). This was before the common use of sealed cartridge bearings, or at least before using them on the bikes I disassembled. According to The Beloit College “Mind-Set List,” as far as the Class of 2015 knows, there have always been at least two women on the Supreme Court, women have always commanded some U.S. Navy ships, and bicycles have always had sealed bearings. Honest, it says that.

No photograph exists, but I found a pretty accurate artist's rendering of the "curvy handlebar" bike.

Next: John goes multi-speed!