I’ve recently been doing some reading for a 3rd year module, Young Lives in London, Liverpool, Melbourne and Sydney. One book touched on the independence obtained through the bicycle. So it got me thinking…
At the age of 7 I wanted to be a racing driver. By the age of 9 I realised that, until such time as I had job, I was going to remove the ‘racing’ bit. The countdown had begun.
Until the age of 17 I counted off the years until I could legally become a driver. This is not that story, what I did in the intermediary years, is.
The only two means of independent transport were the push scooter and the bicycle. For those years the bicycle was my gateway to limited independence.
I will say straight away that I was not, at first, a good rider. I wasn’t unbalanced or slow, just dangerous. I loved, as any child does, throwing my bicycle about a bit between trees, bushes, dips, dogs and people to the extent that for a week I was banned from riding.
However, as a lonely boy, it was my avenue for me to forget about a lonely and difficult time at secondary school. Being a Dyspraxic, and all the social difficulties of being a teenager, at a school which didn’t understand dyspraxia, wasn’t easy.
Still, as I moved into my mid-teens (13-15) I demurred and was given a slower, more robust bicycle. To be exact, it was my Mum’s dark blue Ridgeback.
It was significantly low geared and had no suspension. Basic, but utterly, utterly joyous. It was also at this juncture in my life that I discovered that by pulling just the rear brake I could provoke the bike into a sliding stop.
Logic? Why come gracefully to a halt when you could have a bit more fun and stop by leaving a long black mark on the pavement? As such my bike was subject to rear tyre degradation that would put Pirelli to shame.
There was, however, an inadvertently positive skill set developed. With no tread on the rear tyre and with icy winters and muddy paths on route to school I learned what to do to correct any non-voluntary sliding. I learnt all about reacting to snap oversteer, feeling when the rear was about go.
Weirdly enough, this only made me push harder. In those 3 or 4 years that blue Ridgeback, with a rear tyre worn down to the canvas, provided as my car does today, a brief escape from the world.
It formed a part of my childhood in the years before I was handed the keys to my first car and entered adulthood for the first time.