Let’s not horse around, ask the person next to you to share an important cyclical narrative, and you’ll soon discover we all have one. It might be a modern-day phenomenon but it was conceived in the 19th century. “Learning from the people who have come before [us] is the only way any of us advance,” Seth Godin. Biking is part of our history, our memories, and more importantly our relationships. And BTW, it would be great if you left a summary of your bike stories in the comments, use the #BikeTales, you never know, we could be the next big trend on social media.
Early models of the bicycle were radically different from our modern version, but the intention was the same, a steerable, human-propelled machine, that would serve as an alternative to horses, something not susceptible to crop failure. The first known bicycle was developed in 1817 by German Baron Karl von Drais, it was called the running machine, because it used more of a skateboard approach, propelled by the foot. The peddled bicycle came along a few years later, but its popularity rapidly faded, because the early riders were maniacs, and city authorities had to prohibit there use. It turns out, the brake was a really good addition.
I was maybe thirteen when Larry almost took me out with his bike. I was walking down Midway, on my way to a friends house, when Larry came screaming down El Solyo, without a thought to the possibility of a pedestrian crossing. I had to jump out of the way or die. He came screeching to a halt, did one of those in-air landings, turned around and said, “Sorry, I didn’t see you.” Me, “You might try slowing down at intersections.” Larry, “Yeah, well, I’ll see you around.” Then he road off into the sunset and I didn’t see him until my first day of high school (although when we linked the stories years later, he said he thought I was “hot”, but the truth is he almost took out the future mother of his children).
Back in the day, bikes gave woman a new found independence, they could travel outside the home using their own power, and of course this necessitated new female attire! I remember biking to Mervyn’s on Hamilton every time there was a sale on jeans. I would save up my babysitting money, hop on my very cool red Schwinn ten speed, and I’d be wearing the latest denim within an hour. Except for this one serendipitous occasion. I was riding on the sidewalk, minding my own business, just about to pass the Jack-in-the-Box on Bascom. A car pulls out of the drive-thru, right in front of me, and we had this violent collision. This kid was driving a tin can and my pedal ripped a long jagged hole in the passenger door. His name was Jim Leonis, a Del Mar student, just a few years older than me. He was pissed off and claimed it was all my fault for riding on the sidewalk (that might be true). I gave him my phone number and told him to call my parents. He did so right when he got home (pre cell phone era). Unfortunately, with a very sore knee and dented frame, I rode on to Mervyn’s to purchase my jeans. My poor mother took the call. Jim said, “Your daughter Cheryl hit my car with her bike and she caused a lot of damage.” My Mom said, “Where is my daughter?” Jim, “I don’t know, she rode off.” Mom, “You hit my daughter with your car and you didn’t bring her home?” Jim, “She hit me.” I got my jeans, my sister got to drive Jim Leonis around while his car was in the repair shop, and my sweet father got the bill. My sister Nancy was beyond thrilled, my mom not so much. See, I hit the car owned by the guy Nancy had a huge crush on. I know, I know, I do what I can, pretty damn nice of me.
My first date with Larry was on a bike. We were both fifteen and did not drive. We tried to ride our bikes to the Meridian Quad Theaters, it was ambitious, but about half way there we gave up, and settled for an ice cream. The truth is, I think we were lost, but Larry refuses to collaborate these facts, so I’ll just leave them out. And this becomes the genesis of a long and lasting relationship. A few months later I remember riding my bicycle over to Larry’s house for dinner (God forbid our parents drive us anywhere). Larry told his parents, “Cheryl is biking over for dinner.” His parents were like, “She rides a motorcycle? What kind of girl is this?” I met them a few times at Del Mar football games, I was a cheerleader, and Larry was a linebacker. I guess I made an interesting impression? “The more things change, the more they remain the same” (Alphonse Karr). In the years ahead Larry and I continued with our biking tradition. We rode bikes down the side of a volcano in Hawaii, tried the tandem version as we explored the wineries of Napa, and have taken the creekside trails from Campbell to Los Gatos many a time.
In 1981, the first mass-produced mountain bike appeared on the market. This bike was designed for off-pavement use and could withstand a variety of surfaces. It seems the urban dwellers, like my husband Larry, couldn’t wait to escape the city, and explore a more treacherous terrain. These bikes are so popular they can’t keep them on the shelves. Larry mountain bikes every weekend with a bunch of friends and then they huddle at Los Gatos Roasting Company for coffee and scones. It’s the thing to do. When Larry first started mountain biking, he split open his knee after tanking his bike on a sharp turn, and ended up with thirty-four stitches. A year later he broke his ankle after a nasty fall and Bert Tardieu (Del Mar grad) kindly put him back together. I was hinting that he might want to pick up a new hobby, like bowling, or bocci? But he wasn’t having it, every year this same group participates in the Clearlake Challenge, a 65 mile ride around the lake. They end up exhausted, sweaty, with a consortium of sore butts. How fun!
Maybe this resurgence in the popularity of biking has something to do with our dependence on fossil fuels, and susceptibility to foreign powers. The bike not only supersedes the horse but might provide a viable alternative to the horse-powered car. It’s quite a nifty green machine, using only human effort, and Newton’s first law of motion, “An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” Just give me a brake and I’m good.
I thought the world might be better off using this simple technology as a primary form of transportation, until my son jumped on a bike, and rode from Campbell to Clearlake all by himself. He left Campbell around noon, drove right though an occupy rally in Oakland, cresting the Mayacamas Mountain at dawn, and landing in a bar in Glenhaven around 9:00 am. So now we know long distance travel by bike is possible, if you’re twenty-five, and believe you’re indestructible. There is a new book out that argues for the complete elimination of cars. It calls for a restructuring of our communities, with protected bike lanes, mass transit, and well designed infrastructure so everything you need is located within a reasonable distance. This could be our future and imagine all the resulting #BikeTales.
Don’t forget to leave a #BikeTale in the comments, tweet, pin, and post. Let’s trend…
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