I do not recall my exact age, but I do remember the exhilaration of getting my first bicycle, even if fully equipped with two necessary “outrigger” training wheels. Though a bit insulted by my father’s presumptive conclusion I needed these extra wheels, my first wobbly attempt down the sidewalk proved his foresight.
The sidewalks in the housing area at Fort Ben Harrison outside Indianapolis seemed endless to me. I realized quickly the training wheels were a drag on my speed and dramatically limited my range. I longed to greater adventures than just wobbling down the sidewalk in front of our apartment. It was not long before I convinced my father it was time for the outriggers to go. I remember the moment clearly. Dad removed the wheels and positioned the bike on a long, flat straight section of sidewalk. I hopped on the bike and he assured me he would hold me steady as I peddled. At first he trotted beside me, steadying me as I wobbled from side to side. His encouraging words propped up my sagging confidence as I clearly could not stop the wobble. He trotted along telling me I could do it. I was not so sure. I focused as hard as I could, looking straight ahead. Something broke my trance, I looked to my side, and dad was not there. I looked over my shoulder and realized he was about thirty feet behind me; I was riding without aid! Of course, I promptly crashed—a heap of boy and bicycle in the grass. Encouraged by the realization of my success, I popped up, raised the bike, stepped with confidence on the peddles, and off I went free to explore the “miles” of sidewalks all around me.
In a few years, I graduated to a larger, single-speed Huffy. It was red and white with shiny chrome fenders and giant balloon tires. It was an amazing set of wheels for a 7 year-old. With this much larger bike, my range expanded tremendously, even beyond the boundaries established by mom and dad (which, of course, they never knew). Not only did I become very familiar with all the neighborhoods around me, I even explored the military post where my father worked. I loved to ride, the further the better.
When it came time to move to France, the Huffy came too. We lived in Chartrettes, a small village over-looking the Seine. I learned a single-speed, heavy steel bike was no match for the hills around our house. Nonetheless, I traveled the roads of our village and regularly visited my two Canadian friends who lived in small chateaus nearby. They both had bikes with alien equipment, derailleurs. Not sure what this strange set up was, I realized quickly I was working harder than them as we raced around the countryside surrounding Chartrettes.
I saw my first bicycle road race on the country roads of Chartrettes. I was amazed! As the peloton zoomed by, I jumped on my Huffy and tore out after the race. I learned two important lessons that day: 1) my Huffy was not a racing bike, and 2) jumping into a bicycle race, even at the end of the peloton, does not win friends among the French.
My eleventh birthday nearing, I approached my dad with issues I was having with my Huffy (it really was too small for me by this time) and the magical capacity of derailleurs. I had done my research and when dad inquired what I thought the solution to be, I quickly replied, “What I really need is an 18-speed Peugeot road bike.” I figured I would shoot for the moon since he was asking. Even so, I was pretty sure the best I would get would be a three-speed Schwinn. After some time passed (just to keep me wondering I suspect), Dad took me shopping for a bike. I figured we were on our way to the Post Exchange to order a Schwinn. Much to my surprise, we drove to the village and pulled up in front of a French bike shop. There I was outfitted with a deep green, 18-speed Peugeot road bike! I was stunned!
We moved to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio from France. Equipped with my amazing French road bike, my riding adventures took on an entirely new dimension. Sometimes I would ride as far as I could in the morning and then turn around and find my way home by a different route. In 1964 and ’65, in San Antonio, I knew the freedom of going wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted to. That dark green, 18-speed Peugeot road bike took me to every horizon.