Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Kid with the Wooden Crossbar

I’ve learned a lot in the couple of years I’ve been working as a sports reporter for the Star Courier. You find yourself watching games in a whole different way when you have to write about them later. Plus my job has required me to learn about sports--like volleyball, for instance--where I had virtually no prior background. I’ll never be another Grantland Rice. Heck, I’ll never be another Mike Landis or Rocky Stufflebeam. But I muddle through.
Despite all the different sports activities that have been thrown my way, I never thought in a zillion years that I’d write about bicycle touring. But I did, a couple of weeks ago, after I participated in the Tour of Hog Heaven on Labor Day weekend.
I was surprised at the amount of reader comment I got after I wrote that little article on my experiences, so I thought I’d better provide some background, just in case I’m asked to cover Lance Armstrong on the big-time biking circuit.
For instance, archival photos from the latter 1800’s show my grandfather, Simpson Sloan, astride a bike as a member of the Galva bicycle club. A googlesearch of his name even revealed that he actually designed and manufactured a series of bikes with names like Sloan, Sloan Special and Creole from 1896 to 1898.
I currently ride a circa 1985 Huffy 15-speed that I bought at a garage sale a few years ago for ten bucks. I increased that investment by a factor of about 15 with new tires, brakes and other essentials, but it’s a great bike and more than I’ll ever need. Like most of us, I only use about three of those 15 gears, but it’s nice to know I’ve got the other 12, if I could only figure out how to find and use them. But as much as I enjoy my new/old bike, it’s not the one that truly defines my riding career.
As the youngest--by several years--of three kids, I was used to hand-me-downs, Usually, it worked out pretty well. My brother’s toys and sports equipment were generally pretty cool and broken in--but not broken-- by the time I got them. But the timing was all wrong when it was time for me to move up to a bike big enough to ride to school. My brother was still using his current bicycle, so the one that came down to me was my older sister’s baby-blue, balloon-tired, 24-inch Schwinn.
It, of course, had no crossbar. It was a girls’ bike.
My big brother didn’t generally make it his business to solve my problems, but he could see the angst that this was causing me at F.U. White School, as the big kids taunted me with shouted remarks about my gender identity.
“Hey, look at the shrimp on the girls’ bike!”
So I was grateful, indeed, when he pulled me and the bike into the garage with the equipment needed to solve my dilemma:
A broom, some wire and a roll of electrical tape (the ’50’s precursor to duct tape.)
Quick as a wink, he sawed off the broomstick to the proper length and taped/wired it in place. My shameful girls’ bike was now a boys’ bike, or so it seemed to the both of us.
If you think this sounds kinda like a “Leave it to Beaver” episode, you’re probably right, even down to the dialogue:
Beaver (me): “Gee Wally, do you think mom will be sore when she finds out what we did to her broom?”
Wally (my brother even looked kind of like the handsome Tony Dow, who played the part): “Aw, naw, Beav. She’s got a lot of brooms. I didn’t take one of her favorites, just this new one... .”
...And so on.
It was a defining moment in our relationship, and one I’ll never forget.
Of course, the solution was not without its flaws. Instead of “the kid on the girls’ bike,” I became “the kid with the wooden crossbar.” But I was willing to live with it, just to avoid any confusion about my budding manhood.
The problem resolved itself within a few months, when he got a new, bigger bike and I inherited his manly red boys’ Schwinn. I asked him about the new one via email the other day, and he replied with a precise set of memories that indicated just how much we appreciated the stuff we got.

“It was the best bike in town,” he wrote. “My Schwinn American was a 26" middleweight bike with 2" tires and a 2 speed Bendix hub, with back coaster brake and front caliper brake. Due to a unique combining of 2 inch tire tread and the brick paving of "Heaven Street" (Northwest Third Avenue in Galva), the bike would emit a high pitched and very loud screech whenever I locked up the back brake. That act was a wonderful attention getter of girls walking home after school.”
“If I could find one today, I'd get it,“ he added.

I was truly happy when he got the new bike. Not only did it save me a significant amount of embarrassment, but it gave me something to look forward to.
You see, I knew that, someday, the new bike would be mine.

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