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The Tale of My First Bike; What's Your Story?

Bike to Work Day is Friday (May 18), which got some of us here at REI thinking about the first bikes we ever rode.

What's YOUR first bike story? Here are a few of ours:

Me: Knowing my family wasn't the richest, a buddy gave me my first bike. He lived on a farm in northwest Ohio, and from inside a barn he pulled out what looked like the International Harvester of bicycles: big, brawny and bright blue. From fender to stem to fender, everything was blue.

My buddy's mechanical-genius dad had rebuilt and refurbished it years earlier. It had no gears, no hand brakes, no brand name. The tires were huge. It was kind of a 2-wheeled Impala 442, and it weighed more than a couple of my friends' Schwinns combined. 

But it rolled, and I was ecstatic.  My friends always gave plenty of room when they rode with me, because no one wanted to tangle with The Blue Tank. When I had a head-on with a mailbox, the mailbox took it worse than I did.  Ha; I felt invincible on that bike.

Steve (Director of Design and Development for Novara Bikes):

SteveMy first bike was a castoff from one of the older kids in the apartments where I lived in with mom. I was infatuated with it well before I could actually ride it. I remember spending hours on the back patio leaning up against the wall where I would "lean off" and try to maintain my balance while getting in a pedal stroke or two. Not the best way to learn, but I was determined.

Eventually, out in the parking lot, one of the neighbor kids gave me the push I needed, and the rest is history. 

The accompanying photo (above right) was taken a few years later, after we had moved to the suburbs and I had mastered riding. By then bicycles had begun to consume all of my free time, both riding and tinkering with them. The handlebars on this particular bike were actually motorcycle handlebars that I had "reclaimed" from the dumpster behind the local Yamaha shop and shimmed to fit with a Coke can. 

Chris (devoted cyclist who has written about cyclocross in this blog):

I got my first bike when I was 10 years old. All the other kids in the neighborhood were zooming around on their bikes before I got my hand-me-down. It was a Red Schwinn Tornado with 24-inch wheels and a coaster brake that came from my buddy up the street.

The rack and fenders had the rattle of many miles of kid-riding, and the paint had its share of chips and dings, but to me if felt like a Ferrari.

We had a long swooping hill that seemed to take forever to climb but only seconds to bomb down, and we could ride in an old construction area where they abandoned a building project. We could flow in and out of the holes they had dug for all the forgotten basements. I rode that bike for 3 years until it was replaced with a shiny new Sears model with spider bars, banana seat and 3-speed shifter on the top tube.

Geff (bike connoisseur):

My first bike arrived on Christmas morning in 1962 tucked between a brown couch and a tree with too much tinsel. It was a red Roman chariot, and nearly as heavy—a Schwinn Tornado, built on a curved steel frame as heavy as a crate of watermelons. Thick, brilliant red paint with a white pinstripe not afraid to run from tip to tip. Goliath handlebars. Red reflector mud flaps. My pride.

Steve (resident engineer):

My bike came as a birthday gift, probably fifth grade or so, just before summer vacation. It was an orange, single-speed coaster brake bike from Sears. It had twin top tubes, a smaller front wheel, a banana seat with sissy bars, and hi-rise chopper handlebars.  It was built for the street, with a fat slick rear tire, but everyone else had a BMX bike, so this is the one that got jumped and ridden in all conditions.  

Most everyone says their first bike represented freedom. Same for me.

It was truly a toy, but I was required to get a bike license in my city. I remember taking the test at the police station. I rode it to get candy at a corner store, and it was my transportation to the beach.  It also was the first thing I owned that required maintenance and repair. Removing rust on the chrome fenders in the spring using navel jelly (Do they still make that pink stuff? Did it shorten my life?) and practicing wheelies are fond memories.

Dan (bike zealot; has a basement crammed full of arcane parts):

bikeMy first bike was a hand-me-down from my older brother and sister. My grandfather had bought it new for the first grandchild, and I spent my earliest years watching older siblings riding the blue 1-speed that would someday be mine.

I remember learning to ride on that bike, and in particular the day I rode it on my own for the first time. I was on a slight slope in our driveway and recall falling over time and time again, and then finally "getting it" as I pedaled and got control of the bike.

I will never forget the feeling of riding a bike for the first time and the sense of freedom and accomplishment that came with it. Bikes have had ahold of me ever since, I never outgrew them. To this day hopping on my bike is still one of the coolest and most fun things I ever do.

Lora (all-around outdoor jock):

This is a story about a trick my parents played on me.

I didn't ask for much, really, when I was a kid. But when I was going to turn 16 all I wanted was a Monte Carlo. You remember—the sedan with the rolling fenders. It looked like a wonderful set of waves when it drove by, even if the waves were going in the wrong direction.

So, I was single-minded in my focus: Monte Carlo when I turn 16 and drive—that's all I wanted. Well, sure enough, when I turned 16 there was a Monte Carlo in the garage. But it was a 10-speed, my first; shiny orange and black. I was disappointed at first, but that bike and I traveled many miles on local roads and in the county park. Only good memories now.

Meg (outdoor girl with Midwest roots):

I was 5 when I learned how to ride a 2-wheeler, on an early 1950s Firestone Cruiser, and my sisters, 6 and 7, were my instructors.

FirestoneThe Firestone (close approximation seen in the photo to the left) outweighed me, and standing beside it I had to reach up to grip the handlebars. No luxuries like training wheels involved.  But with a determined sister on each side of me, we pushed the Firestone up "the hill" (a 3-degree incline in a church parking lot in our Chicago flatlands) to give me a good start.

Small girl, big bike and pushy sisters.  Sounds like a potential disaster. But I can't even recall falling a single time.  That big cruiser with balloon tires seemed to ride itself. My strides to work the pedals were nearly hip-deep, but the rush of manning that 2-wheeled craft and the astonished look on my sister's faces were enough to keep me at it for hours. 

I didn't actually learn to apply the coaster brake for a few days. I'd just jump from the bike when it slowed to the point of wobbling. I must have let it stop and fall dozens of times that first day alone, but with its heavy-duty frame, it didn't appear any worse for the wear.

We left the Firestone in the barn at our family farm when it was sold in the late '70s.  I sure wish I had it today!

Doug (rides 12 miles round-trip to work every day):

My first bike was a used, kid-sized, fat-tire Schwinn with coaster brakes, giant fenders, and lots of dents and scratches.  In my neighborhood, nobody got a brand-new bike until they had a newspaper route and earned enough money to buy their own.  I delivered a lot of papers on that old Schwinn and I also spent untold hours cruising the neighborhood with my buddies, jumping off dirt ramps in the woods, and riding to school.

But maybe the most pleasure I got out of my first bike was when I disassembled it, sanded off the scratches and rust, painted it bright red and gave it to my little brother for his birthday. It became his first bike.  He had grown just big enough that he could straddle the top tube and I had grown just old enough to realize that one of the greatest joys of cycling is sharing that joy with others.

Posted on at 2:32 PM

Tagged: Bike to Work Day, Cycling and my first bike

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White Dinka Girl

I was 5 years old and I won a full-sized beach cruiser from the local fire department. When they found out I was only 5, they traded it in and got me a kid sized bike with a flowered banana seat and a Minnie Mouse bell. I was pretty proud of that bike, but it took awhile before I actually learned how to ride it without those pesky training wheels.

The first time my dad let go of the back of the seat I was riding fine, until I noticed he was not right behind me. I turned back around and met head on with a stop sign. The irony was lost on me at the time. But soon I grew more confidence and could fly around corners so hard my petal scraped the ground. It was love.

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When I was about 6 or 7 I got the most beautiful purple bike, complete with banana seat and streamers from the handles, for Christmas. A few weeks later, all my cousins were over to celebrate my sister's birthday. She was riding my bike with my cousin sitting on the seat in front of her and his feet balanced on the front fork. Sure enough, his foot slipped and got caught in the spoke, sending my sister flying over him and face first into the street. My sister lay in the street, her face a bloody, scraped up, mess, and my cousin had a sprained ankle, but all I could see was my beautiful new bike (less than a month old!!!), now a twisted mess. I cried and cried as they took my sister to the emergency room (she was okay) until my mom finally asked: "Which would you rather have better, your sissy or your bike?" With some hesitation, I finally answered, "Sissy... I guess." 30+ years later, we still laugh about it! But she's not allowed to ride my bikes. :)


Schwinn Stingray complete with a banana seat and stick shift was my first bike. This bike started my never ending pursuit of "bike hikes". A "bike hike" consists of packing a lunch and heading out on my bike with no destination in mind and just letting a sense of adventure and travel take over. I could go so much farther and see so much more on my bike than by foot. I quickly upgraded to a Ross Gran Tour 10 speed and found myself riding 30 or 40 miles from home -- I was 10 years old. Since then I have made a career of riding bicycles. I was a bicycle tour leader in Vermont, owned a bicycle courier business, and even now I am Rickshaw driver 3 nights per week in Raleigh NC. Thank you Schwinn Stingray for sparking my lifetime passion!!!!


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