Weekly St. Helena Star Column

Thursday, April 29, 2010

 

BIKES BE BACK

Five years ago it was lamented here how the bike had become almost the exclusive provence of ostentatious yuppies or aged hippies. What had happened to bikes being the domain of kids?

Like certain women, bikes have definitely become high maintenance. They feature initials: GT BMX, AXA, DT--or designer names: Lemonde, Mecurio RS5, Bianchi. Schwinn doesn't much cut it anymore.

. Bikes are to transportation what Pinor Noir is to Cab. The protagonist in Sideways put it best when describing pinot. High maintenance--delicate--moody. Not a grape for all climates or all soils. It is finicky and requires more than the average amount of TLC.

Today, bikes are expensive. They now come in alloys. Titanium is a big word. They have more gears than vines have bunches--more moving parts than Charo. They’re extensions of their owners.

Thanks to elaborate gears, you can climb the steepest hill without standing up.

It wasn't always thus.

There was a time when bikes were made for children. They were an indicator of status in a kid’s world—-not adults. A few years ago, bikes were as rare in St. Helena as honesty on the editorial page of the Star. Back in the day, to not own a bike was to wish one could leave this mortal coil.

When we first moved here, we were bus riders. Raised in Conn Valley, meant four hilly, windy miles from town. It was no casual country bike ride.

However, it didn't take long to realize that in 6th grade, to be without a bike was like being without a flat top hair cut with wings on the side. Definitely, “nowheres-ville”!

I yearned to fit in. However, new bikes were expensive. They could run $20.

I bought a used one for $5. It was perfect--though not the real "in" bike at the time. The "in" bike was thick--big and heavy with footbrakes--hand brakes being for sissies. The handle bars were turned skywards, like a long horn steer charging at you. All fenders and chain guards were stripped off. Kick stands were for wimps.

There were no baskets on the front. The front handle bar was the "seat" for riding double. A practice frowned upon by the adults, but openly flaunted by the kids.

Bikes for the middle schoolers were what a '56 Chevy was to high schoolers. The sine quo non of status.

My parents would never allow me to own one of those "muscle" bikes. They were synonymous with the "bad boy" crowd. The kids with those bikes rolled their t-shirt sleeves up to their shoulders, their jeans under (not over), kept Butch Wax in business, and "pantsed" us 6th graders for sport.

No matter. I had a bike. I painted it Candy Apple Green--only it came out Turquoise. Alas, no one told me to remove the wheels first, so the spokes were no longer silver. Very uncool.

Now I was peddling a long way so I had to have a rack on the back for books. Double wimpy. Still, after school I could ride with the guys down to The Sweet Shoppe, and park my bike in the alley just like they did.

I could offer girls a ride on my handle bars, and when I was spotted by a group of friends, I could peddle as fast as I could, then slam on the brakes and lay rubber as I skidded to a stop.

Of course, we had no need for bike locks.

The bike meant freedom. We rode in packs like mini-hells angels. We made the circuit from Carpy Field, to Mr. Fagg's Sport Shop, to Vandershoot's grocery store, to the covered basketball court at the grammar school, to Taylor's, to Broder's vacant lot for baseball.

We were mobile, agile and hostile.

If Allyn Ave. is any indication today, bikes are making a big come back. Each morning kids under mushroom helmets pedal down the street. Like a sheriff rounding up a posse on horseback, our neighbor, K.R.,starts with one kid and must have 10 by the time he reaches school.

Older kids whiz by, often escorted by pals on skateboards.

It’s a welcome site. Maybe it’s the green movement, or maybe kids are rebelling against helicopter parents who hover over them.

The “why” doesn’t matter. Kids who don’t rely on their parents, may grow up to be adults who don’t rely on their government.

Bikes be back. Our founding fathers would have approved.



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