September 4, 2011

An English racer bicycle was my main mode of transportation until a classmate gave me the look that said it was uncool at my age

Click on photo to enlarge


If you were a bicycle rider, Levittown was a fantastic and safe place to grow up. Do you remember anyone ever being seriously injured?

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, in or out of what was known as "the bird section."

Levittown's various streets (our town magazine was called "Thousand Lanes") could be confusing to a young newcomer whose only modes of transportation were 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 were birds that I had never heard of before moving to my new hometown during the second month of seventh grade at Division Avenue School.

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.


The photo of bicycle riding on Orchid Road is courtesy of Toni Crescenzo Gelfer, class of 1968. Her brother Jimmy is leading the parade while Toni is the tot valiantly trying to keep up with the big kids. Check out the Levitt houses in the background.


Anonymous said...

"I only RODE my bike at night."

bobblog said...

I remember when it was cool to ride a bike, the first and only new bicycle in my childhood was also an English racer, around age 11 I think. At age 12 I got a Newsday route, only 30 papers so the skinny bike was fine, but then long time carrier "Shulty", who lived on Sycamore near Firtree, went off to universtiy I took over his route of 60 papers bringing it to a whopping 90 spreading from butternut all the way to the end of grassy lane near the turnpike. Big route, big money for a thirteen year old...I bought a big balloon tire bike from the Larsens on Border la. bought chrome fenders a light for those early winter nights and one of those huge baskets that needed supports that went from the basket to the front axle. by 14 it had become uncool to ride a bike (only little kids did that) but mine was a work tool so I got a pass. Then came the tenspeeds that changed everything. Hey, does anyone remember when they did the major repaving? When they did that all my friends and I travelled everywhere on those metal clamp on rollerskates.

Anonymous said...

Marti Traystman Welch, class of 1960...

I had a Schwinn bicycle and am unable to remember when or to where I rode. I know that in the mid 60’s I rode it "back to Westbury near Fortunoff’s and Orbach’s" from Levittown (Boat Lane, near Jerusalem Ave and Hempstead Tpke). I had walked to Levittown to visit my mother and everyone who could have driven me home was someplace else. So-o-o-o, I rode my bike--it was still in the garage--and thought I would never make it home. Some workout.

You have brought up so many memories of the times in Levittown and DAHS, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Tim Lavey, class of 1963:

My parents would have taken issue with your opening statement. We lived on Orchid Rd. between Skimmer and Violet. My parents used to complain quite vociferously about the cars barrel assing down Orchid Rd. which was basically a straight from Newbridge to Jerusalem. More than one bicycling youngster was clipped by a speeding car in the vicinity of our house until a stop sign was installed probably sometime in the '60s. Returning to Levittown and driving down Orchid Rd. several years ago, I was perplexed at first to find myself not being able to drive at a speed of more that 5 or 10 MPH. It then dawned on me that this was due to everyone owning multiple vehicles that were parked on the street. In our time, there was a single family car and that was it.

Anonymous said...

Oh! the slings and arrows of high school girls! Today you would be cool!

Anonymous said...

From Kathy Armstrong Urban, class of 1962:

Reading your article about your English racing bike brought back a fond memory of two friends. Susan Kilbride, Carol Geseking and I used to ride our bikes to the ball field on Jerusalem Avenue to watch the boys play Little League in the evening. Susan and I still had our Schwinn bikes but Carol had an English racer with a pouch behind the seat. None of us had watches and Susan and I had to be home by a certain time (probably 9:00). Carol would bring her alarm clock and put it in the little pouch on her bike. When the alarm went off, people in the stands would look all over to see what the noise was. Susan and I were mortified, but Carol, being the trooper she was, headed back to the bikes and turned the alarm off. Then Susan and I would slink toward the bikes and the three of us headed home, laughing all the way.