My History of Bikes

2018-04-23 – I’ve really ramped up my bike riding in the last couple of years, but I’ve always loved riding, since I was a little kid. I’ve had a number of bikes over the years and I thought it would be nice to list them all.

My first bike was a blue 16” with training wheels. I must have been four or five when I got it from my cousin Harvey. All my small-sized bikes were hand-me-downs from Harvey. I don’t remember the brands of any of these bikes and they were not all shiny like bikes are today. Harvey probably got the bikes himself as hand-me-downs, but I don’t know where they first came from.

I remember starting to ride the 16”-er with the training wheels level with the big wheel and then my dad raised them so I could ride balanced, but have the wheels in place as a back-up. I have no idea how long it took to go from riding with the full assist to having the training wheels taken off. It seems like it took a while. But, judging from how fast my own boys learned to ride a two-wheeler, it probably wasn’t much more than a day.

My next bike was a maroon 20”. Unlike the smaller bike, this bike had the look of being repainted. I don’t remember much about this bike, per se. But I do remember that, after graduating to this bike, I went down the street to ride my friend Debbie’s 16” girls bike. Her bike was “too small” for me and I promptly fell off it and cracked my head. (We didn’t wear helmets in those days.) My mom heard me screaming from down the street and ran, while pregnant with my brother, to see what was the matter. I was all bloody and taken to the hospital where I had 6 stitches. I still have a scar. The scar was originally in the hair line. It is now about an inch and a half below the hair line.

My third bike was a red and white 24”, still not shiny, but the original paint job. Not much to report about this bike, but it testifies to the fact that I was growing. I was 7 when I cracked my head and 9 when I got my next bike.

The next bike was a black English racer, 26”. I don’t know if that was a brand or just a type. It was my first bike with hand brakes and it had 3-speed gears in the hub. I have no idea how that worked, but it did. It was cool. I was cool. We had moved into a new neighborhood when I was 8 and now, a year later, I had a cool new bike.

This is the bike that broadened my biking horizons, the first bike that took me out of my neighborhood. Dayton, Ohio, where I grew up, is built on a number of rivers. Due to serious flooding in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of earthen dams were built on the rivers. They became favorite biking destinations in high school and college: Englewood Dam both ways was a 14 mile ride, Huffman dam was a 24 mile ride, and Taylorsville dam was a 26 mile ride. Another river destination (no dam, but Wright brothers memorabilia) was Carillon Park, another 14 mile ride.

My English racer was the first bike I brought to Chicago, when I was in college. There I ventured out, even in the winter, but learned my lesson when Chicago’s wind blew the bike out from under me as I tried riding on a patch of ice. The bike was stolen from a friend’s apartment building in my last year in college.

My next bike was a purple bike with turn-down handle bars. I think it had 10 gears. I have very little memory of this bike. I vaguely remember getting it at a bike shop—maybe on Salem Avenue in Dayton. I must have had the bike at law school in Columbus because I do remember riding around the Ohio State campus. Sometime before I came to Chicago, it was stolen from my parent’s garage in Dayton.

I moved permanently to Chicago in 1979 after I got a job at a Chicago lawfirm here. I made two big purchases after getting settled and one of them was a bike (the other was a piano). The bike was a blue Raleigh 10-speed “racing” bike. With the exception of my current bike, my Raleigh was the best bike I ever had. It went through modifications and repairs and still rode great. I remember riding with a buddy who constantly fussed over maintenance of his bike, but on a coast, my Raleigh always beat his bike.

The summer of 1982 I became a part-time bicycle commuter (three-days a week) from my apartment in Rogers Park to my office in the loop along the lakefront path—always just as fast or faster than taking the L. That was my first 1,000+ mile year (and last until two years ago). My next job was a shorter commute—to CCH at Peterson and Polaski. And I remember keeping pace, on Peterson on the way home, with a woman driving a T-Bird with the license plate “THE BIRD.” She would peal out each time a light turned green and I would just catch her at the next red light! This is the bike I rode when I discovered the North Branch trail to the Botanic Gardens (40 miles round trip). And this is the bike I rode  on my longest-ever ride—75 miles to Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.

This bike was stolen from the garage of my current home after over 20 years. The thieves left a crummy bike in exchange, which we gave to the police, in case the owner claimed it.

My next bike was a short-lived mash-up of two bikes that tenants at my wife Kit’s building had left when they moved out. It was a racing style bike, but it had a peculiar mechanism: the free-wheel was in the crank rather than the hub. I know that makes no sense, but that’s the way it was. The chain moved while coasting, but the pedals didn’t move. At least that’s how I remember it. (I don’t remember what happened to this bike. Was it stolen like so many of the others?)

Next I inherited my niece’s mountain bike. Don’t remember the brand. Didn’t have it long. I went out on a short ride with my then-little son Nat to the 7-11. I thought we could leave the bikes unlocked since we could see them when we went into the store. You could see them, alright. I SAW the thief ride away with my bike. We called the cops, but no luck.

Another short lived bike was a red Schwin mountain bike. I tried to get the bike-commute thing going again with this bike—13 miles each way from my home in West Rogers Park to my office, which, at that time, was in the Mercantile Exchange building on Wacker Drive in the West Loop. I made the commute successfully on the fist day. On the second day, I made it down okay, but when I came to ride home that day I found the bike was gone. Stolen. The Merc supposedly had camera surveillance of the bike area, but they had nothing.

My penultimate bike was a red Trek mountain bike. Since my bad luck riding the icy streets of Chicago in 1973, I’ve always been a fair-weather rider. Which means that I would always stop riding in the fall and have to start riding again in the spring. I rode most summers, but not always. In 2016, I had a little health scare (which turned out to be nothing), so I decided that I was going to get more serious about riding. I started with 1 mile rides, then 2, then 5, then 10, and so on. Early on, I was hit by another biker—sent flying and broke this bike (fortunately I was wearing my helmet or it would have been much worse). I had it repaired and kept going. By the end of the year I had 1,300 or 1,400 miles (I didn’t start my records at the beginning).

Then I had an invitation to come to Iowa for the RAGBAI ride across the state. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for a 450-mile ride (in one week), but they said you needed a road bike, so, for the 2017 season, I bought a red Specialist Allez. It has 21 gears or some such thing. It probably weighs half what the Trek weighed. It’s much easier getting it down the steps to its parking place in my basement and easier riding. In it’s first year, I put on over 2,000 miles.

Eleven bikes over a lifetime. Five or six stolen. Miles of great fun.

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