My First Bike
It wasn’t a mountain bike, but it was 100% mine. I suppose that in the truest sense of the word, it wasn’t really my first bike. The first bike I remember riding – the one I learned to ride on – had a banana seat, something that sparkled, some pink and purple bits, and ape-hanger handle bars. Yes, I am a child of the 70’s – how did you know? But I don’t remember that it was ever really my bike. Most likely it belonged to one of my sisters and I got to borrow it. At best it was a hand-me down, though I didn’t care at the time. This bike though, the one that was indisputably mine, was special.
For me, 1978-79 had been a pretty good year. I did well at school (ya Grade 6!) at a time when my parents were willing to reward good grades with cash. After the final report card that year, I had $120 – more money than I’d ever dreamed of having. Just as important when you live in a miniscule and remote part of the country (northern British Columbia), I also had the Spring and Summer Sears Catalogue.
It was a heady proposition, choosing my very own bike, paying for it with my very own cash, and waiting for that big awkward box to arrive. From what I remember, there was at least one store in town where I could have bought a bike, but either they were all kids bikes, or they were out of stock by the end of the school year. I knew what I wanted, though, the Free Spirit 10-speed, junior-sized frame, in white with a black saddle and handlebar tape, and red and blue markings. It looked fast shining out from that catalogue page.
I doubt it arrived until the middle or end of July, and I imagine that my dad took the time as soon as he could to put it together for me. He probably pretended I was helping, but, unlike my dad, I am not mechanically inclined and was even less so as a gawky pre-teen. The bike, however it happened, arrived, was put together, and became the highlight of my summer.
Back then my best friend lived three miles down the highway, and most of the miles that bike saw were between her home and mine. Our farm also had some roads cut through it – pipeline access and abandoned highway sections – and being in the foothills of the Rockies, it had it’s share of hills. I suppose in some ways I was mountain biking before I’d ever heard such a thing existed, though mostly I was just having fun.
My affair with the Free Spirit was a short-lived infatuation. As I mentioned, we lived in northern British Columbia where the biking season lasts, at best from April to October. Having not even received my two-wheeled friend until July, I had only a few months until the snow flew. By the next spring’s thaw, I had grown 5 inches and was too tall for the junior frame. With a great emotional and financial loss, I sold that little bike to a younger boy from our church. Dad tracked down a full-size ten-speed that someone at his work was getting rid of, and together we stripped it down to bare metal, buffed out the rust, spray painted it indigo blue, and built it back up. While I now leave everything to my man-chanic, in those days I was very proud of having made over that second bike.
I now have two bikes, both worth much more than that little Free Spirit. I’ve had other bikes in the meantime – the one I rebuilt with my dad and rode throughout high school. The one I rode hundreds of head-clearing kilometers when my marriage was breaking down. Yet, like a first kiss (which also happened that year, but is another story), it continues to hold a very special place in my heart.