Bikes I’ve Known and Loved

Posted on June 20, 2012


I’ve been reminiscing recently about the bikes I’ve known in my life. I wish that I had pictures of  of them, but I haven’t been able to find any. I think that’s strange since I was on them so much, but taking pictures of everything that moves is really a phenomenon of the digital era. I guess it shouldn’t be so surprising given that reality.

The first bike I remember was a used Schwinn with 24 inch wheels and dual rear baskets. I think this is the bike I learned to ride on, but that’s a little fuzzy. My most vivid memory of this bike is the time I wanted to show off for my mom. I put my feet in the rear baskets and attempted to ride it with no hands. I guess I thought this was some kind of bareback riding style. That ride did not end well.

I got my next bike for Christmas the year after the family moved to southern California. It was a metallic blue Schwinn Sting Ray with a banana seat that had a leopard skin pattern on it. It was much prettier than the bike in the photograph and it didn’t have the crazy gear shift on the frame either. It was a single speed bike with coaster brakes. I had boatloads of fun with that bike and  I’ve often wished that I had kept it.

For some reason, we carted the bike my mother rode when she was in high school all the way to California, even though she hadn’t ridden it for probably 20 years. I’m not sure what make and model it was, but it’s quite possible that it was the Western Flyer shown in the photo on the left.That bike was in production from the 30s to the 50s and my mom was in high school in the 40s so the timing would have been right. There were many knockoffs of the Flyer (Hawthorne Ballooner, Monarch Rocket) so I really don’t know what it was that I rode, but riding it was like riding a tank on two wheels. It was enormous, sturdy, and indestructible. I used it solely for delivering to the 120 addresses on my newspaper route. I had a spectacular crash on this bike as well, but I won’t elaborate on that.

The only bikes I ever saw my parents ride were matching black Raleigh 3-speed commuter bikes. They’d go out for a spin in the neighborhood every so often which I don’t think was a commonplace adult activity in the 50s and 60s. I never learned what motivated them to buy the bikes. The idea of being able to shift gears on a bike appealed to me and I rode my dad’s bike occasionally when I wanted to appear to be sophisticated. I don’t know if I impressed anyone or if anyone even noticed, but it gave me  a new bike experience.

In college I rode a Gitane 10 speed, the first bike that I actually purchased with my own money. I enjoyed that bike immensely, but unfortunately, it didn’t survive the college years. The next bike that came my way was inherited from a relative. For a couple years I was poorer as a newlywed than I was as a college student so this hand-me-down, a Raleigh 10 speed, was a godsend. I rode it all over Minneapolis in the early 80s and all over Rice County in the late 80s.

I didn’t ride much in the 90s (a reality that still puzzles me), so my current bikes are much more recent acquisitions and I’m actively using all of them today. I have a Trek 720 hybrid, a LeMond road bike (Croix de fer), a Trek 4300 hard tail MTB  and a Trek 3500 hard tail MTB . I appear to have developed a particular brand loyalty so I can’t talk manufacturer comparisons or performance differences, but then I don’t have to. It’s eminently satisfying to just ride ’em.