Origin Stories: Cycling

I recently bought a cheap, used bicycle. A friend asked what the story was behind me getting a bike, since I don’t tend to do things without reason. I’ve had a lot of great experiences with bicycles. During my teenage years, it was a favourite hobby and I biked everywhere. It faded away as I got older, and now I’m going to try to bring it back. I enjoy recounting parts of my history, so here are my experiences with bicycles.

My biking story begins like most do. I don’t remember exactly how old I was when my parents got me my first bike, but I was probably 5 or so. We got it at a K-Mart. I remember looking at a few bikes, trying one with handbrakes(riding down the isle) and crashing because the brakes were too hard for small me to squeeze. So I got a bike with a coaster brake instead. It was the standard kids bike: a bmx style with training wheels. It was yellow and orange and said “High Tech 2000” on it. We used to go on a lot of family walks, and I used to ride my bike ahead while my parents walked. I remember enjoying skidding my rear tire when stopping, and I did it so much that I actually got holes in the tread.

My entrance into two wheeled cycling happened when one of the training wheels broke. For a while I rode around on one training wheel, leaning to one side. The first time I went without the training wheels, I remember my Dad held the back of the seat and then he let go and I effortlessly rode away on two wheels. I don’t remember it being hard at all. I kind of just transitioned into it. That’s not to say I didn’t fall at times, but I think that was more because we had a gravel driveway and it was easy to lose grip while turning.

I don’t remember the transition to my next bike, or even where I got it. It was a red bmx, or an RMX as it said on the side. I think we got it at a garage sale. It was on that bike that I learned how to do wheelies, and skidding while sliding around a corner. At some point I was given permission to bike around the block by myself. I must have went around that block a million times. I don’t remember what motivated me other than enjoying the ability to move myself around on my own vehicle. I remember once there was a construction crew working down the street, and I went by so many times in a short span that one of the guys asked if I was training for a marathon. At this point I was still decently young. I also remember going on bike rides with Dad and trying to keep up as he raced ahead.

I’m not sure when, but at some point I was allowed to bike wherever I wanted. I’m pretty sure that was around the time I got my next bike, which was when I started to really get into cycling. I think I was probably 12 or 13, and I’m pretty sure the bike came from my uncle. It was a used CCM Gemini(just a plain mountain bike), that was in pretty rough shape. With some help from my Dad, I did a lot of work on it and fixed it into a bike that I was proud of. It didn’t have any brakes on it any more, so I bought some parts and installed a full v-brake system. I replaced all of the cables, and spent a lot of time learning how to properly adjust the shifters until they were perfect. We replaced a tire, and the front handle bar stem. The rear frame was bent and causing the wheel to rub, so Dad figured out how to straighten it. The rear axle broke, and Dad helped replace it.(I didn’t have much to do with that repair….it was kind of beyond me at the time)

I explored every road in Mitchell on that bike. I eventually developed a route that I biked regularly. There was a trail by the river that was nice and some hills that I could get going fast on. At some point I got a speedometer and started tracking my speed as well as distance. I’m not sure when, but I decided that I wanted to bike to Stratford, which was 20km away. I started training by biking around big blocks in Mitchell until my speedometer said I had travelled 20km. I think I may have been 14 when I finally made the ride to Stratford with my Dad.  Mom came and picked us up so we didn’t have to ride back.

Around this time, my cousin and I used to hang out a lot in Stratford with our bikes. We biked around town a bit, and spent a lot of time practising our wheelies and endos(lifting the rear tire by braking fast). I believe my record for a sustained wheelie(or catwalk) was 20 pedal revolutions. We tried some jumps too, but I was never good at actually getting air on those…probably because I had the heavier bike.

Again, my bike was getting a bit small for me, and I was dreaming about having a bike with suspension. I think I was around 14-15 years old when my parents bought me my next bike. It was a new CCM Revenge, which had front and rear suspension. I took great care of this bike as it was my first new one since I was 5. I remember bringing it out each spring, taking it to the car wash and making sparkle like it was new. I would then get rid of any rust with some steel wool, lubricate everything, then re-adjust the gears and brakes until everything was perfect. It still looked new after 4 years. This was to be my last bike until now, and I put a lot of kilometres on it.

At this point I started getting into mountain biking a little more. There was a trail just outside of Mitchell, known as the rubber dump. It had logs to go over, and was generally quite rough. I used to go there, and spend afternoons timing myself on the main loop going as fast as I could. I would bike to the rubber dump just to sit by the river in the quiet and pray.

The CCM Revenge
My CCM Revenge on the Rubber Dump Trail

My best friend lived 26 km away, in the country. He and I used to bike together a lot. I borrowed their bikes a lot in the early days. We always biked back to the river and bush at the back of the farm; racing along the rough dirt road between the fields. If the river was low enough, we could bike across it and follow the trails in the bush. As we got older, we started biking down the road to Science Hill, which had a river at the bottom where we would skip rocks under the bridge. We biked to Stratford and back together once, and another time we went to St Marys. Eventually I started biking to my friend’s house. The ride there was nice as I could take back roads with less traffic, but it was hilly so it was hard. The last few kilometers were downhill, and I remember there was nothing better than gliding down the last stretch of road after a long ride. Thinking back, these were the best of times….not a care in the world. I kind of wish I could go back.

I also used to take my bike when we went to the cottage. I remember biking from the cottage to Dunchurch on the hilly, curvy roads of northern Ontario. I remember biking on a random dirt road that went up a tall hill, and then biking down as fast as I could. As I neared the bottom I realized that I was going way too fast. I slid through the final corner and somehow managed not to fall. My bike rides at the cottage were probably the beginnings of my love of exploring and road trips, as I would just take random dirt roads to see where they led.

I turned 18, and cars began to take my attention away from biking. I didn’t take my bike with me to my first year of university, but I did still go for rides on weekends when I was home. Second year of university, I took my bike to Hamilton. I used it to get to the school and back and I went on a few longer rides. I rode down to Dundas Valley a few times. The road into the valley was exhilerating as it was downhill and long. I biked down to the waterfront once too. That involved going down the mountain on the Chedoke Radial trail, and then biking on the road to the waterfront, following bike paths when I could. For some reason, I’ve never had a fear of sharing the road with cars…probably because I started so young in Mitchell.

My third year of university I moved off campus. At first I had it in my head that I could bike to school. It was 7 km, but it was uphill all the way. The ride back was nice, but it was just too much work before going to class, so I didn’t do it often…plus driving was just nicer. I spent a lot less time biking from then on. All the nice biking spots were too far away, and the bike didn’t easily fit in the car.

In 2008 I spent some time fixing the bike as it had started to deteriorate from being parked outside. I wound up replacing the shifters and brakes as well as the rear derailer. And then, that summer, it was stolen. I was already spending a lot less time riding, and that was the final nail in the coffin. I didn’t have money for a new bike, and after a year, I didn’t really care anymore. There were a few times when I considered buying a bike again, including one trip to Canadian Tire to buy one that was on sale, and then it turned out they didn’t have any more of that one.

I find it curious that a hobby that meant so much to me could die just like that. I think part of it may be that the draw of cycling was the feeling of independence…and cars provided that more so. A lot of my long distance biking as a teenager was to go places…not so much about the ride. And yet, there is something enjoyable about the hum of the tires and the wind and the scenery passing by.

And now I have a cheap, used, $40 supercycle. Nothing special about it, but maybe it can help jumpstart things back to where they were.

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