I”ve had three consistent interests since childhood, bikes, computers and guitars. If you haven’t guessed already from the title this post is about bikes.
Do you remember your first bicycle? Mine was a purple Raleigh Budgie. We lived on a cul-de-sac so I had a safe place to ride it. I have vague memories of riding it with training wheels. The problem with training wheels is that they don’t let you learn to balance. Here in Slovakia I see very young children on “two wheelers”. These training bikes don’t have breaks or pedals and they don’t have training wheels. Kids use their feet to push them along and to stop. But the point is they learn how to balance on two wheels from day one without too much difficulty. I remember when we finally decided to take the training wheels off. My poor Dad spent the whole weekend running up and down our little “play road” holding onto the back of the saddle while I learned how to balance, fall off and try again. Eventually I out grew the little purple Budgie, the training wheels went back on and it got handed down to my younger brother. It was my first bike but it wasn’t my favourite bike.
I don’t remember where my Raleigh Chopper came from. I don’t remember buying it in a shop and I am pretty sure it was second hand when I got it but that didn’t matter. That gold painted Raleigh Chopper, to this day, was the best bike I ever had. It was the classic bike of the 1970s. It had those “sit up and beg” handlebars, 3 speed gears with a T-bar, frame mounted gear stick and an L shaped bucket Dragster Saddle. As far as I know it was the only one in our village.
I have a clear memory of visiting a welding shop with my dad. Dad worked in construction, he still does and there was always something breaking on his old JCB that needed welding. This particular Saturday I had gone with him and in the back of the shop was a bright red leather custom seat. It was an American import just lying around in the back of the welding shop. I of course expressed an interest in it. I can’t remember if it was gifted or if my dad paid money for it but either way it came home with us. I spent all weekend fitting it and it clashed horribly with the gold paint of my bike so I asked my dad to get me some blue spray paint and I spray painted the frame.
It must have been 1980/1981 and I would have been 8 or 9 years old. My favourite band was Adam and the Ants. I had Kings of the Wild Frontier on cassette. I would tape one of those retro tape recorders to the backrest of the Chopper’s custom seat, paint a white stripe across my nose with poster paint and ride around our village. I thought I was so cool. It’s not surprising I didn’t have a lot of friends!
It was around that time that my parents got divorced but I don’t want to write about that except to say that my bike gave me an escape. I spent a lot of time on my own during those years, riding my bike. I was never a popular kid, it probably had something to do with the poster paint, but I had one best friend. Paul was my best mate from the early years of primary school and I spent a lot of time at his house. But the problem with Paul was he didn’t have a bike. He did however have a Sinclair ZX81 home computer. It had 1KB of memory but that’s for another post.
Paul and I lost touch after we went to different high schools and I don’t remember what happened to my Raleigh Chopper but I’m pretty sure I threw it out. 1982 saw the UK BMX explosion. BMX became the “must have” bicycle and I remember going with my dad to Burnley BMX Centre to buy a brand new AMMACO BMX. It was white with red decals, red spoke wheels and red tyres. Skyway Mag wheels, stunt pegs, chromoly frames and 360° handlebar headsets were the ultimate in BMX cool but as my dad would say, “we aren’t made of money” and he was buying two because my brother also got one. I loved my BMX. Some of the cool kids in the village built a BMX track on the local recreation ground and I remember spending almost every night after school riding around that track. I was in secondary school now, I had lost the white stripe, I still wasn’t a popular kid but I had a few more friends mainly due to the BMX and now instead of riding alone we rode together.
It’s funny writing about my childhood. I almost never think about it and so it”s hard to recall. My memories are widely spaced and vague but some things stand out from the fog. I grew out of the BMX during the early years of high school. I have a vague recollection of having an old orange drop handle bike I inherited from my grandad. It was an Eddie Merckx, not that I had any clue who Eddie Merckx was. It was an old bike. I only have one memory of it. I was riding fast down the hill from the village to our house. I went over a pothole and the bike frame broke in two catapulting me over the handlebars. After that I don’t remember having a bike until I left school. In my last few years at school I walked everywhere. I had traded my retro tape recorder for a portable CD player with headphones and I walked. I was starting to play my guitar a lot more by then, I had a lot more homework and I had a new best friend.
I think that’s enough for one blog post. I’ll write more tomorrow.