--- Written by Andrew Keith.
It doesn’t really seem all that long ago, though it is a matter of several decades, that I was boy growing up in country Queensland. Of course there are many memories of growing up; of school; and Christmas and birthdays and so on, but some of my clearest recollections centre around riding my bike.
We lived out of town, which being only population 1,000 was not exactly metropolis status anyway, on a few acres so I had plenty of room to roam free. But I never felt so free as when I was out riding.
I remember receiving my first bike, though I don’t remember my age (perhaps 7 or 8), very clearly. It had been resurrected from a rubbish tip and painted blue by a scrap collecting employee of my father. It had a strange scimitar shaped curved piece as the top tube, a single gear and pedal backwards braking hub. I don’t remember learning to ride, it certainly had no trainer wheels, so it possibly didn’t take me long. I do vividly recall my Dad taking it for a test spin and looking a bit like a circus bear.
It wasn’t the “cool” bike of the day – the three gear Dragstar with the car style gear shift and hand brakes. How I envied the kids who had those.
However, having learned to ride it I never looked back. The road in front of our house led to my best friend’s house some 2km away. It had an 80km speed limit (In fact I am not sure it wasn’t 100 back when I started riding). Many weekends I would ride on the road, no helmet, to my friends place (which was a big farm) where we would hoon around the dirt tracks and doing jumps and discussing the merits of standing up to pedal versus sitting. One of the indoor turbo trainer video workouts I use now has a section where at the end of a long effort you get relief in brief flashbacks to riding as a kid. Rather than the young girl riding on the screen it is this dirt track hooning I see in my mind’s eye each time I do it.
My next bike was a Christmas present when I was perhaps 11 or 12 and had outgrown the blue beast. My joy on Christmas morning seeing a green 26 inch wheel Malvern Star, again single speed and back pedalling brakes was unbridled. Not even the purchase of my latest carbon road bike has given me that much joy. Again it wasn’t the “cool” bike to the time (BMX) and it had some really uncool things like flat bars and mud guards (these “accidentally” broke off on a ride with some mates one day and were left hanging in a pine tree). I look at the super cool fixies of today and they are not a million miles from this bike, but at the time BMX berms and jumps was the thing. Jumping a 26 inch road wheel is an experience let me tell you. In an effort to make it cooler I put enormous butterfly handlebars on it like a chopper motorbike.
Again I rode around everywhere on road and off, visiting friends and circumnavigating the local irrigation lake and revelling in the freedom to do my own thing. No helmet, no lights (though I never really rode at night) and the only road that my parents forbade us riding on was the major national highway nearby.
In all that time I never had a close shave with a motor vehicle, never had anything thrown at me or heard any abuse. The only stacks I had (and I had many) were of my own making. Nobody ever yelled “get off the road you adjectival idiot” or “pay your rego”. Now maybe that was because I wasn’t in the city, or maybe it was just a different time. Sure many things have improved on the roads since then. We no longer have a culture of drink driving (RBT was not in use back then), litter our highways so badly (the stuff on the road shoulder used to be a real mess) and we now have some cycle specific infrastructure (I had never heard of a bike lane or bikeway). But in many ways we have also lost something of the freedom of the time, and looking at my kids, living in the city, they just don’t get the pleasure from their “really cool” modern bikes as I got from my totally uncool bikes as a kid.
Now as a MAMIL of 2 years standing my bike means freedom again. I wish I could have back all those years in between. If I had my time over I would have never stopped riding.