I will never forget my favorite bicycle. It was a Christmas gift surprise from my grandparents, and I can vividly remember being led down their long hallway, into their garage and discovering my shiny new Schwinn in all her glory – a big, festive bow tied between the handlebars. I was so proud of my sleek new “big-kid” ride. I’d finally graduated from streamers and pink and purple flowers to hand brakes and multi–speeds. My bike came from Hawley’s Bicycle World (as has every other bike I’ve ever owned) and was a fancy, metallic sea green color that shimmered in the sunlight. To a preteen girl growing up in a time before iPads, electric scooters and hoverboards, it was everything. I would love to know how many miles I clocked on that bike.
I think it’s pretty safe to assume that if you polled folks about some of their fondest childhood memories, time spent riding their bicycles would quickly come to the forefront of the conversation for many. Little neighborhood “biker gangs” travelled in packs, in search of the next big adventure. We knew to come home for supper when it started to get dark. Rites of passage included learning to ride down a curb, then a flight of stairs, riding with no hands, popping a wheelie, pedaling standing up, and balancing while crouching with both feet resting on the crossbar (I do not recommend attempting to demonstrate this to your family at age 34). At the risk of sounding like an old fogie, I’ll say that times were simpler back then. Somewhere along the way, many children and families stopped cycling as often. Is it because we are all just a little too busy for the simpler pleasures in life? Too distracted by our digital devices and structured activity schedules? Can we attribute this change to ever-mounting safety concerns as we’re bombarded with news stories of children and even adults vanishing while out in their own neighborhoods? Some of us are cycling, we’re just doing it indoors on our Pelotons and in spin classes. I will sheepishly admit that my own household has, over the years, accumulated a pretty impressive collection of family biking gear that has mostly just served to collect pollen and occupy space on our patio.
And then came Covid-19. Early on in one of the prettiest Fayetteville springs I can remember, we were ordered to stay home and isolate from one another. This left all of us, particularly those responsible for young children, feeling totally at a loss – panicked, really. What would we possibly do without our dance classes, T-ball seasons, park playdates, spring soccer Saturdays, swimming pool openings and gym memberships? At first, we overcompensated. We outlined color-coded homeschool schedules with a little time built in for backyard “P.E.” between kindergarten teacher/student Google Meet sessions and Facetime piano lessons. Many of us parents likely agree that what might have started off as a refreshing change of pace and a unique opportunity for home-learning quickly lost its luster, leaving us all more than a little stir-crazy. For my own family, something happened quite organically in the midst of all the “Corona chaos” that I will forever credit for preserving our mental and physical well-being. My husband and I affectionately refer to it as “The Great Bike Revolution of 2020”.
It all started with a 54-second viral YouTube clip my husband remembered from years ago of a dad recording his son, moments after riding his bike without training wheels for the first time. In the cellphone video, the elated little boy practically shrieks, “I feel happy of myself!” “Everybody! I know you can believe in yourself! If you believe in yourself, you will know how to ride a bike! If you don’t, you just keep practicing! You’ll get the hang of it! I know it!” My husband showed the video to our tenacious 5-year-old who watched it intently, over and over, and then promptly asked that her training wheels be removed. By the end of the same day, after dozens of run-alongs and push-offs and several epic wipe-outs, she was off and cruising. As her daddy and I watched her whiz around the backyard, he pondered out loud, “You know, I wonder how long it would have taken us to think about teaching her to ride without her training wheels if it weren’t for Coronavirus. I would have been at work today.”
Inspired by our daughter’s new enthusiasm and visions of daddy-daughter excursions dancing in his head, my husband made a fateful trip to Hawley’s to have his own road bike tweaked. Awhile later, he burst through the front door and called for our 3-year-old son to come out to the driveway. From the back of his SUV, my husband unloaded a shiny, black and orange bicycle, complete with brand new training wheels. “I didn’t intend to buy him a bike, but he needs one. He’s big enough now. I just saw that one and it reminded me so much of my first bike. Man, I loved that bike…”
The look on our toddler’s face was just as priceless as his dad’s. While hopping up and down, he exclaimed, “A big boy bike! Is it for me?! It’s just like Bicycle Man’s!” It took some preschool-level questioning to understand that he was actually referring to our neighbor, George Pantelakos, respected family practice physician and avid cyclist, whose bike I realized, upon later inspection, does happen to be orange and black. Since that day, Dr. George and his little neighbor have bonded over their orange and black bicycles.
We’ve spent more time on bikes over the past weeks than we have in our cars, and from the looks of it, we’re far from the only ones. Bikers are everywhere! From our front porch, we’ve noticed families biking by regularly that in the six years we’ve lived in our house, we’ve never seen before. It seems that almost every day, another buddy has unscrewed their trainers and joined the “two–wheel club.” During a recent phone chat with one of my favorite grandmotherly friends who is distancing at home by herself, she mused over what joy it’s brought her to watch through her window as families bike down her street, and young children practice on two wheels in the school parking lot across from her home. A sweet Facebook photo shared by a fellow mom depicted her son’s teachers delivering his kindergarten diploma to their driveway, her beaming boy wearing a mini graduation cap atop his bicycle helmet. A local friend whose father owns a bike shop in Wilson commented that business for him is booming like never before, and I like to hope that the same has been true for Fayetteville’s own cycling retailers.
I think that for many of us, whether learning to ride for the first time or rediscovering a favorite childhood pastime, our bikes have represented freedom and openness at a time when we’ve all felt so profoundly restricted and confined. At the end of each day, as I apply Neosporin and Band-aids to little skinned knees and elbows, I say a prayer of thanks for the two bicycles that have brought so much happiness and entertainment to my kids. Ride on, road warriors.