My love affair with bicycles began in the early 60's. The hilly streets of Struthers, Ohio were my main roadways and I wish I had a nickel for every mile I pedaled in my youth. A bike became independence for me. No longer did I have to stay in my neighborhood. I now had the freedom to travel miles away and explore my city and region that I didn't know existed.
I learned to ride at the age of six on my neighbor boy's hand-me-down girl's bike. Forget the training wheels, I mastered my balance by rolling down my friend's steep driveway out into the street. Several scraped knees and one dented parked car door later, I was riding on my own!
My first bicycle was a used blue 20-inch model with Butterfly handlebars. I bargained with a kid to sell it to me for nine bucks. I begged my Dad for the money with the promise of doing extra chores. It worked and I was the proud owner of my first bike. I was told I got ripped off. The kid who sold me the bike had payed seven dollars for the bike, a week earlier. Who knew the kid I bought the bike from would wind up selling cars? I saved my money and soon bought a Banana Seat at Tip Top Sales in Struthers. Wow! Now I was REALLY cool! I even added streamers to the ends of the handlebars. Baseball Cards held in the spokes with clothespins was a frequent optional accessory.
My folks surprised me with a Brand-New Columbia 26" Bicycle on Christmas Morning. This bike had lights and a horn and even a Vroom Motor. The Vroom Motor was a Mattel Toy Co. MUST HAVE for all boys that Christmas Season! A plastic motorcycle-looking engine that clamped on to the frame of your bike. "Twist the dial for that realistic motorcycle sound and watch everyone get out of your way!", so the commercial stated.
It was mild that Christmas Day with no snow and I couldn't wait to take my shiny Red Bike for a spin. A 26" bicycle was still a bit of a challenge for my inseam, so I had to start and come to a stop with one leg touching the ground. I cranked my Vroom Motor up to full volume and whisked my way up the street. I felt like I was flying! Everything was going fine on my Test Ride until I came to a Traffic Light Intersection at Wilson and Garfield Streets. I was stopped at a Red Light with my Vroom Motor blaring out it's loud Vroom Sound. A Police Car pulled up to the light to my immediate right as the light changed. I became flustered by the presence of the Cop, the noise of the motor, and my lack of experience of starting out on such a large bicycle. I promptly put my right foot right through The Vroom Motor as I attempted to start out! Oh, The Horror! I was devastated! The Policeman saw what happened and just shook his head with a smug look on his face. You don't know how bad, even as an eight year old, I wanted to flip him off or tell him to "Go Eat a Donut!"
The terrain in and around Struthers wasn't exactly ideal for a bike with no gears. At the time, very few kids had bikes even with 3-speeds that had a small lever mounted on the handlebars. I walked my bike up many a hill in town, especially Wetmore Drive by the Old Bird Bath Swimming Pool. I heard many tales of kids loosing their brakes or a chain while going down that treacherous hill with curves. I witnessed it first-hand once. A Teenager had "Road Rash"from head to toe from being unable to stop after his chain came off his bike. he finally stopped sliding in the Cinder Parking Lot at the bottom of the hill. Everyone from Struthers knew what Cinders were. An ash by-product of The Blast Furnaces that was used on parking lots and on streets on a snowy day.
In my later grade school years, my buddies and I would often venture to the neighboring towns of Poland, Lowellville, Boardman, Campbell, and Youngstown. Traffic was nothing like it is today. We would leave early in the morning and be gone all day. Most of our Parents had no idea where we were, I'm sure they wouldn't have approved. I think the farthest we ever traveled was the Boardman Plaza. A good twelve miles mostly on Route 224 when it was two lanes. ( Am I that old?) Putt-Putt was another popular destination, along with the Giant Slide, until they tore it all down for the Route 224 Widening Program.
Bicycling was eventually replaced by me getting my Driver's License. I did borrow a friend's 10-Speed for a spin, not long after they became popular and affordable. At sixteen, I could really crank up the speed on that bike, easily doing 30 M.P.H. Unfortunately, as I reached top speed on Fifth Street, a car hit me head-on that was turning. I was launched off the bike into the Car's windshield. From there, I bounced off into a huge Maple Tree 25 feet away, hitting the trunk about 10 feet off the ground. The worst injuries were a skull fracture and shattered left knee. The bike looked like an Accordion.
That was the last time I was on a bicycle until my daughter was born years later. I had a 10-Speed with a Carrier on the back. I took my pre-school Daughter on many leisurely rides. Often for Saturday Morning Breakfasts that was Our Time together. Hmmm...guess its time to start taking the Grand Kids for a ride....See Ya later, got to go shopping for a new bike!