September 13, 2010

Bicycle boy comes of age on his English racer

For most of us, our initial mode of transportation on wheels is a tricycle and then a two-wheel bicycle. I loved to ride my dark green three-speed English racer. It wasn't a premium brand such as Raleigh or Rudge, but that didn't matter.

I found this statement on the internet written by Sheldon Brown..."From the 1930's through the 1960's, English-made 3-speed bicycles were, in some respects, the ultimate in human-powered transportation. They spawned a vibrantly active club culture that has never been equaled. The bicycle provided unprecedented individual mobility to the British working class."

My English racer indeed gave me " unprecedented individual mobility" and I did not have to be a member of the British working class. In fact, I didn't work at all, just did kid's stuff and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my new home town, Levittown, when the Barnings moved to Hyacinth Road in October of 1954. I was 12-years old, free as a bird.

Levittown's various streets (our town magazine was called "Thousand Lanes") could be confusing to a young newcomer whose only modes of transportation were shanks' mare (walking) and bike. I first rode in Forest Hills, Queens which was mostly set up on a grid, so getting lost was difficult. It helped that the east to west streets were set up alphabetically. I lived on Austin Street, next came Burns, Clyde, Dartmouth, Exeter and so on.

It helped that the part of Levittown that I traveled the most had two themed sections. We lived in the flower section and many of my pals lived in the bird section. There was birds that I had never heard of before moving to my new hometown.

Anyway, I was a mobile young boy tooling around Levittown on my English racer. I did notice that as I got a year or two older, that fewer kids were riding bikes, especially girls. But nothing was ever said. It just was.

And then one day, I was riding to my friend Mal Karman's house on Meander Lane (what section was that?) and came upon a particularly cool classmate, Maryann McNally who was walking on Azalea Road. She was always friendly, had a great smile and was in Mal's top 10 of prettiest girls in our school. Yes, he had a top-10 list and updated it monthly.

It was just a withering look from Maryann, not verbal, but it shouted "There is something wrong with you, Frank, if you are still riding a bike." I felt mortified, humiliated. And I got the message.

From then on for the next couple of years until I could drive, I only road my bike at night.

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