What was your first bike as a kid? My son’s first proper bicycle was a Christmas present, as was mine. I think I was about 9 years old, while he was 4. Mine, was a Raleigh Shopper in pearlised blue, white seat, small white wheels and a big white wire-basket on the front. To be honest, I hated it. It was too girly, the small wheels meant it was slow and the basket rattled. It was the ‘must have bike’ for girls of the 70’s. The equivalent, for boys was the much cooler, the Chopper.
When Halfords got in touch and showed me their images of bikes through the decades, I was immediate drawn back to the 70s and the Chopper. The ultimate in 70’s transportation for the under 16s. There was a boy in my class, he had very shiny, long blonde hair and the greenest eyes, both him and his older brother had Choppers. Riding the vast tree-lined expanse of Chestnut Avenue as if they owned it, when actually they lived on Hawthorn Drive, owning a Chopper made you master of the pavement.
The Chopper, although cool, was too laid back for my tastes. The seat of the Chopper allowed a languid cycling style and “I’ve all the time in the world”…… Time enough to ‘high five’ as you passed. Owning a Chopper made your practically a California dude, despite being firmly rooted in suburban Britain. I didn’t want cool, I wanted speed. I wanted a racing bike and I had a plan.
I’d take the Shopper to the park, this was the 70’s parents regularly sent their children to the park unsupervised. On arrival, I’d scan the fields for boys on a drop handle racer bikes. Having spotted my target, the next part was to negotiate a swap, which was surprisingly easy. Either my Shopper was abandoned while the boy hung out at the swings, or for laughs they rode the Shopper up and down steps. Unconcerned by either arrangement, I lapped the park on a borrowed racer. Head low over the handle bars, peddling as fast as my legs would go. It was absolutely exhilarating.
The long straight path by the tennis courts, is a vivid memory, it was very flat and empty, tennis was not a sport of anyone’s choice locally. Down to the end, turn right and the next three path, I’d weave around children and stray dogs. Up past the cafe (slightly up hill). Down hill by the road (pick up speed). Right again along the bottom, by the swings. Round and round I’d go until flagged down by the owner of the racer, the Shopper returned. In my head, I was just a faster version of me. I didn’t know the Tour De France existed, I’d never heard Beryl Burton, Victoria Pendleton wasn’t even born. I loved cycling for the joy of the wind in my face, the trill of going faster, simply expending the energy of childhood. The Shopper and I eventually found mutual respect and it was my transport to school for a while.
A racer was never to be mine. I’ve since owned a vintage bike and mountain bike with an adoration other people reserve for pets. Somewhere, is one photo of me standing in front of our garage, awkwardly holding the handlebars of the Shopper, empty basket on the front. I’m wearing a short, white and blue printed, polyester dress, completely inappropriate for bike riding. I’ve lots of photos of my son with his first bike, his balance bike, finding his independence and disappearing into the distance. Then his first ‘proper’ bike, the pride and the joy of peddling under his own steam.
Then as now, being a kid with a bike equals freedom. My son doesn’t get to roam alone on his bike, not yet. Times have changed. We cycle as a family. His first bike was a balance bike, a sort of mini scoot along bike with no peddles. He transitioned easily from this to his first pedal bike at 4. He is now on his third bike and loves to lap the park as much as I did. For me, babies and bikes didn’t mix, my bike was doing nothing but gather dust and when we left the North, I gave my mountain bike away to someone who needed transport to college.
This summer, having also been without a bike for a while, for my birthday I got a new bike and I love it. I zip into town and as a family, we explore local cycle paths. Cycling has become our shared interest, something my son and I can do together. I struggle to meet his enthusiasm for Lego, Star Wars or Pokemon, but on bikes we find our common ground.
Many thanks to Halfords for encouraging and collaborating on my pedal back to the 70s. Halfords have a great range of kid’s bikes, a bike really does make a memorable Christmas gift.