I turned 62 in April of this year, and I climbed back on a bike for the first time in more than 10 years. My butt didn’t touch a bike saddle for the entire decade of my 50s, and I make that confession with a great deal of embarrassment and regret.
I loved riding my bike as a kid. I don’t remember the bike I first learned to ride on, but the first bike I could call my own was a small, black, hand-me-down Schwinn that was perfect for jumping dirt hills and careening around the banked berms in “the field” at the end of the subdivision. My bike and I were inseparable.
It was a basic, no-frills, one-speed rocket ship with a coaster brake, and I loved it. You pedaled forward to go forward and you jammed the pedals in reverse to stop. If you clothes-pinned a playing card to the frame so that it was struck by the spokes passing by, it sounded exactly like a Harley at low-idle. It was simple, easy, perfect. What more could an eight-year-old boy want in 1967?
My friends and I could ride for hours, seeing who could jump the fastest, the highest and the farthest. One day I rode bravely away from the dusty trails that were so familiar, headed boldly for the uncharted territory that lay in the weeds at the edge of the field.
Suddenly, and without warning, my front wheel disappeared into a dry ditch bed that had filled with weeds and debris, making it virtually invisible until it was too late to jam on the coaster brake.
The impact sent me flying over the handlebars, arms outstretched, eyes wide open, legs trailing and flailing behind. I was airborne! For about two seconds. But in those two seconds, “I slipped the surly bonds of earth,” just like the astronauts. Even Superman would have been proud!
Then I landed.
Luckily, my face was there to break my fall, and if my nose hadn’t absorbed most of the impact, I may have been seriously hurt. Blood streamed from my nose like water from a faucet, staining my shirt with blood and glory. My friends were impressed. My mom? Not so much.
It would be five more years until Evel Knievel attempted to jump the yawning chasm of the Snake River Canyon in Idaho, on a highly modified, rocket-powered motorcycle. He wasn’t a whole lot more successful than I was, but he got all the news coverage. Even so, Evel Knievel had nothing on me.
Soon after, the vacant fields and lots where we rode gave way to unwelcome acres of condos and strip malls. Where do today’s kids go to jump dirt hills? I guess most of them don’t, and it’s a shame.
As a teenager, I got a new bike for my birthday. It was sleek and blue and it took me to frontiers far beyond the familiar streets of my own neighborhood. It had a three-speed internal hub and caliper brakes. It was a pedal-powered, chromoly ticket to freedom.
When I was 16, I saved my money and bought a real European-style ten-speed, just like the one Eddie Merckx rode in The Tour de France. Well, almost.
That bike was stolen from my parents’ carport on a summer afternoon while I was on the other side of the kitchen door making a PB & J. It was a harsh lesson in the realities of life, and I was devastated.
In my 20s, 30s and 40s, I rode many of the local charity rides, raising money for MS, Diabetes, and many other worthy causes. My friends and I formed a team and we’d crank out 100 to 150 miles or more in a weekend, barely breaking a sweat. I rode the ULCER — the Utah Lake Century Epic Ride — a 105-mile circumnavigation of Utah Lake, and a fundraiser for the Bonneville Bicycle Touring Club. I took up mountain biking, which added an entirely new dimension to cycling, and I was in the best shape of my life.
Then, at the age of 50, I just stopped. I don’t know why. I suppose I could get all philosophical about it, but the reasons don’t matter. I tried to throw my leg over the saddle of my old road bike in March — a sleek, red crotch rocket that I used to be worthy of — but the stiffness in my hip wouldn’t let me. All I can do now is wonder what kind of shape I’d be in today if I had kept going.
But I’m determined to get “Back in the saddle again,” as Gene Autry used to sing. After all, I can still get on my vintage mountain bike, arthritis be damned.
I hope to see you all on a local trail one day soon. Happy pedaling!
THIS IS THE PLACE!
With its varied terrain and altitudes, Utah is an ideal place for cyclists to train and perform.
Whether you ride skinny tires, fat tires, or something in-between, there’s a cycling event for you. From road bike tours to century rides, road races, triathlons, mountain bike endurance rides and downhill racing, you can find it all. If you don’t ride, you can be a spectator or provide SAG support!
The Tour of Utah is quickly becoming one of cycling’s most recognized professional competitive events. Unfortunately, it was canceled last year and again this year due to the novel coronavirus.
The LoToJa (Logan to Jackson Hole) is a grueling 200-mile, one-day bicycle race that will humble even the best amateur riders. It will take place this year on Saturday, September 11th.
Other cycling events include the Front Runner Metric Century, the Emigration Canyon Hill Climb, the Bear Lake Classic Road Race, the Tour de St. George, the MS-150 (where you can pedal for a cure), and many more.
REASONS TO RIDE YOUR BIKE
- It’s fun!
- It’s healthy!
- You can ride with the kids!
- You can ride alone or with any number of people. (Just make sure you do it single-file!)
- If you bike instead of drive, you can reduce your carbon footprint and save on gas.
- You can ride on the road, on dirt trails like the Bonneville Shoreline, or on safe and traffic-free routes such as the Jordan River Parkway, Parley’s Trail, and a plenitude of other trail systems and parks throughout the state.
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