The very first time I ever rode a bike was the day I had my very first bike crash.
It was my 7th birthday.
I looked like this:
We were living in a rented house on Seventh Avenue, which sounded glamourous, but it was just the Seventh Avenue in the hum-drum suburb of Kedron, Brisbane.
I keep telling people how poor we were growing up but no one seems to really believe me and even I don’t believe how far I have come when I arrive home to this amazing house Dee and I now live in. And reminded of our home’s incredible value from the blog I wrote yesterday — plus in the many times the house and I share alone together — instead of an empty, lonely feeling, I melt into this place with all it’s beautiful furniture and art and personal details and I feel supremely good and I remember so acutely that I should also feel incredibly grateful and privileged.
But I’ve digressed.
That magical birthday morning in September started with presents from relatives and a present from Dad and Mum. Once everything was opened I was entirely satisfied with my haul but my Dad suddenly announced there was one more present and I’d have to follow him to get it.
Curiously I followed him through the house and then downstairs and around the car and then we were suddenly upon something leaning up against one of the house stumps. I recognised it as a maroon-coloured bicycle but I was still waiting for the actual present. I looked at it for a few seconds in bewilderment but then realised when Dad was looking at me expectantly for some emotion. And then it hit me: the bike was the present. And then eventually I said to my father very soberly, and this is VERBATIM: “Is this for me?”
And he said, “Yes!” Almost as bewildered as me that he had to answer such a question.
I was still not entirely convinced this was all real and was perhaps just a tiny bit wondering if Dad had mixed this present up with another kid. So I touched it as delicately as I could like this was all a dream and it in fact belonged to someone else like I had guessed all along.
Eventually when it seemed like no one else was going to claim the bike for their own and Dad hadn’t said, “Just kidding kid, as if we could afford this bad-boy” I decided it was in fact MINE. A very, very alien feeling for something so big and shiny and new and mechanical. And so there was no SCREAMING FIT of excitement, just a very, very slow and steady realisation. I guess that was disappointing for dad, but I can assure him now it was just as amazing a feeling as that kid felt in the video back there. Maybe.
Anyway — until that day I had never ridden a bike*. I know that seems crazy cause kids today ride all sorts of two-wheeled contraptions — like balance-bikes — to prepare them for real bikes. And indeed there are plenty of very small bikes suitable for kids as young as 3 or 4. But in my day, that stuff wasn’t really around.
So Dad was like, “Do you want to try it?” And I was utterly petrified but had to agree seeing as Dad (and, I learnt later, some other benefactors) had gone to so much trouble.
Dad promised to hold onto the back of the bike as I rolled around our deserted early morning street and that worked well and I was gaining confidence. Then about three go’s later I looked back and dad wasn’t there holding the bike — he was back in the distance looking pleased with himself — and me, well I was suddenly riding on my own and I panicked and immediately crashed. From memory it was pretty low speed and I think I even got a healthy bit of foot down so there were no cuts or scrapes — just a very, very sudden stop and a healthy dose of shock.
But then I had a bike and I kinda knew how to ride it. And I’d like to say I embraced it, but in reality I did pretty stupid things like walking it up a hill and freewheeling down. It was a few years later when the BMX craze hit before biking got cool again and this bike — a roadster — was horribly passe. But that is another story.
A bit later — I think I was 10 here.
* I had a tricycle as a toddler