The lonesome peddler

By Ken Bradbury

I remember my first one … black and orange with flames, red reflectors, tassels on the handlebars, and if I tied baseball cards to the spokes and got going really fast, I imagined that my 26-inch Monarch bike was a growling Harley Davidson tearing up the main drag of Perry, Ill. Of course if you wanted a real motorcycle sound then you inflated a balloon just a bit and attached it to the spokes, but it was really embarrassing to cruise by the 5th grade girls displaying your roaring manhood and have a balloon pop. It gave you away.

Either I’m driving in the wrong neighborhoods or kids with bicycles have become a rarity. Take a stroll down College Avenue or State Street in Jacksonville on a spring evening and all the bikes have AARP stickers on the rear mudguard. Either kids are too lazy to ride bikes nowadays or perhaps the things have become too expensive. Maybe it’s just hard to text and bike.

I can remember the days when any kid worth his Dr. Pepper owned a bike. We didn’t have many Schwinn bikes in our neighborhood. Most of ours came from Sears or the Five and Ten, and some had been in our family for several generations. Today we’d call them vintage. Back in the fifties we called them “Uncle Bob’s.” My Dad knew the danger of sibling rivalry, so on a long ago Christmas morning my brother Keith and I found twin Monarch bikes beside the Christmas tree, and that was just fine with us. We could hardly wait until the snow melted that winter so we could take our bicycles out into the back yard, training wheels and all, to try them out. Mom was beginning to tire of tires in the living room.

And I can remember the terrible day when Dad insisted that he take the little safety wheels off and I was forced to actually balance the darned thing while cruising down the slight incline behind our house. I told him that I thought I should keep the trainers for a least 10 more years but he said that it was time I put on my big boy pants, so after a few crashes into the east side of the house, I finally learned how to both balance myself and turn to avoid annihilation.

But the big test came when we decided to take a really long journey on our bikes, a two-mile trip to Grandma’s house. Mom came home one afternoon and found us packing cookies, apples, candy and several bottles of Pepsi into paper sacks and asked us what we were doing.

We’re going to Grandma’s house.”

Is she out of food?”

No, this is for the trip.”

I suppose that seasoned bicyclers regard two miles as a warm up, but for Keith and I this was the adventure of a lifetime, the sojourn of the century, a journey where no man had gone before. We jumped onto our bikes, said what might be a final farewell to our mother, and headed west out of Perry. Our little town has an unusually wide business district, so we took two or three laps around just to make sure that everyone could take a good look at these brave voyagers. By the time we reached the bridge crossing the town creek … about a quarter-mile … we decided that, in order to preserve our strength, we needed to stop and eat a few cookies while skipping rocks on the water. We’d prepared for all types of weather and had brought enough food to stave off starvation, but neither of us had foreseen the danger of wild animals along the trail. Sleepy Lanier had three of the most vicious dogs in Pike County, and I think he purposely starved them so they’d be insanely hungry when any cyclers came by. Years later, on subsequent trips to Grandma’s farm, I learned to load up my squirt gun with ammonia, but on this maiden voyage I’d not anticipated the teeth of mongrel hounds’ intent on chewing off my lower limbs then using my handlebar tassels as floss. Long story short, we outran them and ended up at Grandma’s doorstep much quicker than we’d anticipated. I think it was Keith sacrificing our Oreos to the bloodhounds that saved us.

I miss cycling. It’s an easy pace at which to view the world and I would suspect it’s good exercise. Bikes these days come with several speeds and some look as if they could outrun Mr. Lanier’s dogs, but they may be out of my class. I was recently asked to take photographs of a moto-cross and I’d stationed myself out in the boonies to get some action shots. Holy cow. These bikers had Spandex more expensive than my old bicycle. Their bikes were made out of super-alloy-magnesium-lightweight-potentate-plutonium, or something like that, and could outrun any dog. I’m not sure but I think that some had Wi-Fi and built in microwave ovens. At the end of the photo shoot I walked back to my car. It had training wheels.

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