Most of us recall our first bike with great fondness. We remember how long we waited for it, how difficult it was to first master, and how much fun we had with it. The day we received that bike was one to be remembered—a milestone, whether it was Christmas, the first day of spring, a birthday, or just an average Thursday. No wonder the bicycle holds a place of honor in the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong.
Like many kids of my generation, I didn’t learn to ride on a brand new bicycle and instead wobbled along (and skinned my knees) on a hand-me-down relic. My first bike had previously belonged to a neighbor who was much older than I, and dated to the era of chrome trim and balloon tires. A one-speed and constructed of heavy steel, that bicycle was the hardest thing for a little guy like me to pedal. But it was mine! I remember loving it daily—repainting parts of it, polishing the chrome, washing and waxing it (while Dad did the same to his car), oiling the chain, adorning it with a simple clown-style horn and handlebar grip streamers, and just standing back and admiring it after I had buffed out the paste wax. It was mine, and if I had to work that hard to make it move, I was going to decorate it my way and do my very best to maintain it. Our bicycles gave my friends and me a type of independence and freedom that none of us had experienced before. They added a whole new dimension to our suddenly much-wider world of free play; we could now wander much further than “just out of earshot.” But we still needed to be home by dinner time! Though I was occasionally late, Mom was always pleased that I came home hungry from my excursions. What new-found joy bicycles brought us! With the wind in our faces, we’d ramble up and down dirt road after dirt road in pre-BMX style, hitting little rises as fast as we could just for the thrill of it, speeding down long inclines just to test our fear thresholds, and skidding sideways to a stop just to see if we could control our machines all the way through the slide. On some occasions, we’d sacrifice good baseball cards, clipping them to our bikes’ spokes with Mom’s clothespins to create the buzzing sound that helped us envision graduating to motorcycles one day. Sometimes our bicycles would let us feel nearly as free and weightless as the hawks floating above. Most often though, our bicycles liberated us not only from gravity but from impending boredom and sped us off—almost magically—toward parts unknown and adventures unanticipated. Sure, we lost some skin every now and then with our antics; now that I think about it, we may have perfected the fine art of “taking a header.” But it was almost always great fun and, like all free play, our bicycling adventures helped each of us develop some very useful skills while overcoming more than just a few of our inborn fears. So hop aboard that bicycle, especially if it’s been a while since you last took it for a spin. I guarantee that you’ll not only exercise your muscles, but you’ll also recharge your mind and spirit in the process. Maybe you’ll even get transported back in time to your first bicycle and your own two-wheeled adventures.