The summer I was 9, I learned a major lesson in life: Bicycle=Transportation=Freedom. In doing this I also defied my parents and lost the privilege of using the bike for a while, but so what, a few lumps along the line are to be expected.
A local radio station in Buffalo, NY promised a picnic to anyone willing to drive to the ski resort area south of town. For most folks, this was about 20 to 30 miles, but I was already well south of the city. I desperately wanted to go, but my parents were adamant, no radio station picnics for me. This was 1968, and they knew there would be drugs.
The morning of the picnic my sister broke her collarbone, conveniently distracting them. I hemmed and hawed and began wondering: Could I bike there? It’s only 15 miles. The route was uncomplicated, only one road, NY 240.
I decided to go for it. All 65 scrawny pounds of me rode off on my 20” single-speed, and I made it! It took about 90 minutes, but I made it! Problem was, as my parents had feared, there had been a drug bust and the event was shut down early. But what did I know or care? I made it! Ah, the innocence of being 9.
The trip back was somewhat less successful. A gang of kids who had taunted me on the way to the picnic didn’t miss me on the way home and beat me up. One of their parents noticed the fracas and the strange bike and luckily rescued me but not-so-luckily, called my father. You can guess the rest.
Accomplishing 15 miles on a 20” single-speed at 9 meant that the world was now open! I could go anywhere and so I rode everywhere. Riding freely meant loving life, and I rode a lot.
High school years brought forth a unicycle, and before long I was unicycling four miles each way to school, a couple times a week. My unusual commute earned me a spot on the evening news one day. Through college, I rode one wheel or two pretty much constantly. I think all that exercise is what has helped me stay relatively youthful. I don’t feel my age, and according to many people, I don’t look it, either.
Now 51, I still consider myself free as a bird, as long as I have reliable wheels.
No money for bus fare or gasoline? No problem.
Just get on and ride.
Stuart Strickland is a public transit advocate and long-time cyclist living in the Pittsburgh area. His goal in life is to make it possible for Americans to get around via anything but the car.