Click on photo to enlarge
By FRANK BARNING
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.