Miscellaneous Rumbles

My First Bicycle

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I guess I was around eight years old when I got my first two wheeled bicycle. It was a 20” black and white Royce Union that came from either Sears and Roebuck, or possibly Lit Brothers department store. I can’t quite remember which, but I remember picking it out. My brother who is four years older than me got a Schwinn 26” at the same time. They were both gifts from my parents. For what, I can’t remember. Might have been Christmas, may have been just because we needed bikes.

Like most kids in the 60’s, my bicycle was a big part of my life growing up. It was the way to get around our suburban town, going to friend’s houses or ball games, and sometimes just to go out for a joy ride. One of my favorite excursions was to go to the local shopping center that was less than a mile from my house. There, was a whole world of things to do for a kid. A bowling alley, a beer store that sold ten cent ice cold sodas, a bakery and not one but two ‘five and dime’ stores: an F.W. Woolworth that had a soda fountain with the best vanilla or cherry Coke, and another store called Grants. Also in the shopping center was a hobby store which was one of my favorites. That’s where I would end up purchasing many model car kits, Yo-Yos, and Aurora Model Motoring cars and accessories. Then there was Schrager’s Drug store, which also happened to have a soda fountain. That became our main source of reading: comic books. I’d ride up to “the center”, buy the latest issue of Daredevil or Car-toons and tuck it in my belt for the ride home as I had no other place to put it. I didn’t want one of those “sissy” baskets on my bike. I’d later end up installing one of those “sissy” baskets so I could deliver The Philadelphia Bulletin, which would become my first paying job. It wasn’t too long before Sting Ray bicycles became popular. Back then it was fairly easy to buy the things needed to turn your ordinary bike into a custom bike and I went all out. I installed a banana seat, ape hangers and even a set of wheelie bars (quite rare to find now) on the old Royce Union. I had gotten fairly adept at wielding a can of spray paint from building model cars, so the black and white paint job was covered in a metallic green. The old white wall tires were replaced by a set of redlines. Pretty darn sporty and one of the coolest custom bikes in the neighborhood, which is what I was going for.

After years of use, and moving on to using my brother’s larger bike as I got bigger, the Royce Union went in storage in the crawlspace of our house. There it sat for many years, but never forgotten. About ten years ago, I retrieved it. It had taken on a bit of rust here and there, but really held up remarkably well. With a bit of cleaning, adjustment and lubrication, as well as a new set of wide whitewall tires, special ordered in from a local bike shop, it was roadworthy again. I would occasionally pump up it’s tires and take it for a couple of trips up and down our driveway, then put it back with the larger bikes that we currently own.

This past week my eight year old grandson was over for a visit. He recently learned to ride on two wheels, and I figured it was the perfect time for him to try out my old bike. His eyes lit up as I pulled it out of the garage. He had seen it in there before, but it was always fairly buried. After a rather quick orientation to mostly get used to the ape hanger handlebars, off he went. Up and down the driveway. Many times. It brought a real grin to my face as I could tell he was enjoying it as much as I did over 50 years ago.

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After some modifications..

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With my "current bike"...

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Great story. Now tell us about that Studebaker Hawk....

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I know I don't still have my first bike. It's really cool that you do. Heck, I don't even have any pics.

Cool video of you grandson riding your first bike.

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Coll story. And a cool first pic. I especially , liked the Hawk in the first pic. It reminded me of my Dad's Silver Hawk back in the early 1960's. My own bike at the time was a CCM "Imperial" on a frame that was too big for me (I would "grow into it" was the word), and sadly, I have no handy pictures of either car or metallic blue bike.

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Wow!

Great story, and lucky grand kid!

So you came from a time when TV had three channels, and there were only two sexes.

The "unwoke" ages!

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Genuinely brought a tear to my eye, just wonderful.

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That is a 1958 Silver Hawk (same model your Dad had, Kevin!). My Dad had Studebakers for a long time and even sold them at a local dealership for a while. The 1958 was used by my two oldest brothers, and got the nickname "The Batmobile" in the neighborhood. My dad purchased a 1963 GT Hawk in 1966 that I still have, to replace the '58.

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This is what it’s all about. There are few things that bring me greater joy than seeing kids having fun on bicycles.

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You know I'm a Studebaker fan, and the Hawks were the top of the line. They were some of the first muscle cars ever. My first car was a '59 Lark wagon (ex sheriff K-9 car---a Bluesmobile that smelled like dog) that was great for hauling band gear. My 2nd car was a '62 GT Hawk. Dad would take me down to the Stude proving grounds once in a while while they beat up cars on the test tracks. Still remember when he brought home an Avanti to take out there.

My first "big" bike was a hand me down. It was a big '40s Schwinn, with a horn in the 'tank', and baskets front and back for hauling newspapers. I tried a 3 speed "English racer" but it just couldn't hold up to the beatings hauling 150 papers daily gave it. As I had a country route, I'd actually make more money picking up soda bottles than selling newspapers sometimes. At a nickel apiece, I'd cash those bottles in down at the IGA for sodas and candy, and the Mad magazines that the penguins hated so much. By the time the Sting Ray bikes came out, I was already driving a car and dirt bikes.

Crowbone---I'm old enough to remember when we had no TV channels.

13

Great bike memories, Metman.

Bicycle experiences were probably much the same across Boomers' adolescent years. I don't recall what my first bike was - I can't remember a time when we didn't have multiples in one of the garage bays. (Our garage started as a carriage house in the early 20th century, and had been converted through the years to a 5- or 6-bay garage-and-shop, where Dad spent most of his non-work time...working. Well, doing all the plumbing, electrical, carpentry, auto, and maintenance jobs needed in order to save teacher's-salary money. Also, he liked it.)

Most of these bikes were used / rescued / rebuilt by Dad. They weren't shake-n-bake, but Ah hailped anyway. I can't remember how many bike frames I sanded for paint, and how many spokes and rims I did my best to polish. I think my fingers still have impressions from those diameters - or at least I can feel the frames and spokes in my mind if I think about it.

I also have only the vaguest impressions of learning to ride. It must have been early. Seems from 2nd or 3rd grade I had considerable bike independence, riding around the neighborhood or to friends' houses. Certainly by 4th or 5th grade my domain was the entire town of 3,000. I knew every street. By 4:00 after school I'd be ready to go, and the only parental instruction was "be home for supper." (Which was about dusk anyway.) I hope some kids today get that freedom, but I don't see much evidence of it. Sounds inconceivable now.

The first bike that struck me as glamorous was a Raleigh 3-speed "English Racer" dad bought used, and rode himself. You'll remember - 3 speeds inside the rear hub, very complicated. Plus handbrakes rather than back-pedal coaster brakes. In British racing green with a sprung brown leather seat. Very sporting, you know.

Then, around 5th/6th grade, I sold enough imprinted Christmas cards to buy a gleaming black chrome-fendered 26" Royce Union 3-speed from the catalog. (I don't think I've thought of the name Royce Union for decades until you mentioned it.) I've never been prouder of any possession. I put on friction-generator headlight and taillight, a horn, and speedometer - and eventually baskets (which never seemed sissy to me, musta been your culture) so I could, yes, use it on my morning paper route.

I also kept a more trucklike fatter-tired traditional-framed 26" for newspaper duty on foul days. It was surely a rescue, and probably a Huffy or Murray. There were never Schwinns in my family. I certainly aspired to Schwinndom, but it was a known fact of life that they were too fancy and expensive for station in life. The rich kids can have Schwinns if their parents want to indulge them. (I also had Shaeffer pens...and coveted Parkers.)

Alas, the Royce Union came to grief when I ran into the guywire for a telephone pole, hard enough to bend the front fork. I have no idea now how fast I was going, or how I managed to center that 1.75" front tire on the .5" braided wire. I also remember nothing about my own injuries, if any. What I remember is that Dad straightened the fork - probably pretty well - but the paint had flaked around the bend and the bare metal rusted there. Why didn't we sand and touch up that area with paint? No idea.

Just about 6th or 7th grade, around the time of The Monkees, Schwinn Stingrays were suddenly the thing - and, man were they a thing! Of course I wanted one. Of course I wasn't going to get one, because...Schwinn. Even when the other brands' copy versions came on the market, there was no chance.

Dad had numerous "safety" objections. That slick rear tire wouldn't have any traction in the rain. The difference between tread patterns front and back would mean unstable turning. The high-rise handlebars were all wrong for steering geometry and ergonomics (though he didn't use that word). The partial fenders would get my clothes dirty. There was even something wrong with the long banana seat - and certainly the sissy bar (if so equipped). And why would a kid big enough for a 26" bike want to go back to 20", like little kids? Also, it was a fad, like that loud music.

Nonetheless - I must have been persistent - for my birthday in 7th grade (I think), Dad built me a stringray he could live with. Built on the requisite 20" frame, It had a mini-banana seat in silver sparklehyde (foreshadowing Kustom amps to come), mid-rise handlebars, partial chrome fenders with the all-important flared ends, a sorta-slick on the back, and was freshly painted screamin' red (with no decals or pin-striping).

And it was more than good enough. In fact, I don't recall any brand-snobbery on the part of the riding fraternity at the time - and, in point of actual fact, it was a true custom-built original, not some factory job, so there. I was in stingray heaven, though I'm sure none of the girls I rode to see were as impressed with it (or me) as I was.

It became my number one ride to school and for round-town jaunts where I might be seen, but was inefficient on the paper route - and, with its pedal-furiously 20" wheels, not at all the right ride for the much longer rides in the country I was routinely making by then.

It was killer for wheelies, though. I remember riding on one wheel for blocks at a time; I'm not sure the girls cared about that either.

I think I was riding the red stingray when Kenny and I built a short, steep ramp in his backyard from plywood and cement blocks. Had we been thinking - and we weren't - there might have been two ways to think about locating the ramp in the grassy backyard rather than his graveled stub of a street, or pavement elsewhere. One rationale would have been we'll get more speed on harder surfaces, and launch further from the top of the ramp. But a crash landing will hurt. The other would be The grass will keep us from getting much speed, but it won't hurt as much to crash.

Whatever was going through our 13-year-old brains, we opted for the second location, without bothering to calculate whether we'd get enough speed to actually launch from the ramp, and not just flop over headfirst at the top.

Which is exactly what happened.

Somewhere around 9th grade, I got a - new, from Campus Bike Shop in Columbus - dark green Raleigh Record 10-speed, a perfectly capable "real" bike by the standards of the day. Not the lightest-weight racer, but 27.25" skinnies, derailleurs, center-pull brakes, crotch-bustin' hard saddle, underslung bars, the whole deal. From then on out to the end of high school, I would routinely do long rides throughout the county (and sometimes further). Easy 10-20 miles after school, 30-40 miles on weekends and through the summer. I was a ridin' fool, by myself or with riding partners, didn't matter. I did an annual 100-mile-per-day organized ride (Tour of the Scioto River Valley) from Columbus to Portsmouth OH and back, and once the Midwest Double Century - 200 miles in 24 hours, through the highest point in Ohio. I finished in 13 hours.

Which was the peak of my serious cycling career. I'm riding again now, and would love to regain the stamina to do that again. The legs and the breath are both challenged now - but I can easily do 20-30 miles as long as the terrain stays relatively flat, or the hills are neither too steep or too long.


And yes to the Revell, Monogram, and AMT model kits from Stubbs 5 and Dime, magazines (and in my case 45s, eventually LPs, and Black Diamond strings) from Wolfe Drugs, just up the street. Yes to Aurora Model Motoring and Estes model rockets. Especially yes to a remarkable carefree and idyllic youth, free as a bird on a bike. I was lucky.

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ANYway. Stingrays, yessir. My younger (Tru-Arc) brother Steve had the coolest bike any of us ever got - and please explain to me how Dad let it happen.

Shoot, Dad even helped, because again the bike was a rescue and needed rebuilding. But holy Safety Alert, Evel - it was a Huffy Rail. An extended low-slung frame, which I remember having a huge 24" slick in back and a knobby 16" front tire on an extended springer fork, with an internal expanding-drum brake (caliper in back), the full-length banana seat, and chopper-high handlebars. (I don't think Steve's had the full-height sissy bar, though.) AND it was a 5-speed with rear derailleur, not to mention the giant Castrato Special shifter on the top bar. And I think it was metallic purple. Might have been green.

This is the closet I can find to the exact feature set. But not this sissy rainbow color treatment, no sir.

Steve was always cooler than me.

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My current bike is an altogether silly contraption, a 3 speed Brompton.

It’s a real bike, I swear!

I sold my carbon fibre Scott racing bike to buy it when I decided I was too old and responsible for bike racing on the weekends. Still love the sport but I’m damned if I’m going to send my self scraping across the tarmac anymore for a €50 prize purse.

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too old and responsible

Old you have to get (or get to get); responsible is strictly an elective. I advise you to have nothing to do with it.

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Like yourself, my fist bike was also a Royce-Union,very similar to yours,,burgandy in color, bought at Montgomery Wards. A present for my 7 years old birthday.

It was a great feeling being able to gain your newfound freedom by just peddling away down the sidewalk..

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my first bike that i can remember was an old (and this is c.1962, so possibly pre-WWII) girls' bike oversprayed baby blue that, like every other one till the matching Sting-alikes from the Spiegel catalog for me and my older brother when i was 11, were hand-me-down junkers he'd had first. i vaguely recall getting my training wheels off--the introductory iteration of a life leitmotif!--and clearly recall a couple of epic crashes that would have gone swimmingly in indoor motorcycle racing. i had a real Stingray in middle school that was literally the only cool thing about me until my hair finished growing out in 1972. i quit riding in my teens...the Chicagoland Area (no, seriously, that's what they call it, like some dystopian Disneyland worthy of an early T Bone Burnett song) is enormous, and the only practical ways to cover that vast expanse of flatlands were by CTA and (much more sane) automobile. i started riding around San Francisco on mountain bikes in the 1990s which had me in the best shape of my life after several years of commuting via CalTrain and the red Klein Pulse Comp i bought remaindered from last year's stock in April of 1996. i used to go out at midnight, ride down the side of Golden Gate Park to the sea, up the highway past Ocean Beach, up Portola Boulevard to the top of the road past Twin Peaks and coast down upper Market Street to Castro at 35 MPH bent over the bars like a track racer and hanging on for dear life. i loved ripping down Bush on the way to the train station, blasting between the taxicabs running downhill into 3d Street with my long hair streaming out behind my helmet. i still have that bike today (damn right! it cost $1250 in 1996 dollars i e. $3500 today) and have been meaning to get it out, but i'm almost 64 now and when i fall down it really heckin' hurts...i have to just lay there for awhile in shock. but it would be one of the best things i could do for myself. it's the only form of exercise i have ever actually enjoyed.

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While I do not remember my first bicycle, it was when I was in junior high school that the 10 speed bicycle craze began. About 1973, if I recall correctly. Man, I wanted a lemon yellow Schwinn 10 speed but what I got was a pearl white Royce Union missing the seat that my father cut a deal with the local J.C. Penney.

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This is a WONDERFUL thread!!! Brings back tons of memories......

My first "big" bike was a Roadmaster. That was followed by a 3-speed Raleigh which suited me so well that I wasn't sure why I would want to get a driver's license.... I got over that in a hurry however........

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have been meaning to get it out, but i'm almost 64 now and when i fall down it really heckin' hurts...i have to just lay there for awhile in shock.

If you have a safe place to fall down (ie, where you won't end up under a motor vehicle), get it out and start riding. I've fallen off three or four times in the last two years of riding, and find it really doesn't hurt that much...at the time. I generally finish my ride. Scrapes and bruises don't bother me much, and heal faster than I expect. (Apparently, as long as we're alive, our bodies' self-maintenance routines still work.)

I sometimes can't walk the next day, or for a few days afterward. And twice I've been out for 6 weeks or so while the complicated mechanisms of torso and back recover from the torsional forces...but it's still worth it.

I'm learning to minimize falls, which generally happen on corners - for one thing, by curbing my enthusiasm for riding in wet, chilly weather. (Something I actually enjoy.) And I should ride something with more tread on somewhat fatter tires than the 27" road tires my tired Motobecane Nomade wears. But every time I ride such a hybrid candidate, I resent the extra ergs it takes to overcome rolling resistance.

Doesn't matter. When successfully muscling up a challenging hill (I mean slight incline), bombing along in high on a flat, or doing the high-speed coast downhill, I feel just as young and immortal as I ever did.

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Royce Union missing the seat

Now that conjures up an image. I keep picturing a corndog on a stick. Did you eventually make enough with your allowance to put a seat on it, or did you have to stand and ride for years?

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Also, Royce Union was pretty skillfully named. At the time, I thought of it as an exotic luxury brand - an easy enough delusion to maintain, since I didn't know anyone else who had one. (I'm starting to wonder if there's a strange deep data relationship between adolescent ownership of a Royce Union and eventual affinity for the Gretsch brand.)

But every kid (or every kid I knew) was aware of Rolls Royce as undisputed automotive royalty, and what was a Royce Union bike but a...rolling Royce?

Had to do some subliminal work on us.

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[music under: "Twilight Zone Theme"]

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Definitely one of the coolest bikes in the neighborhood! My parents bought my sister and me Hercules 3 speed bikes probably from EJ Korvettes. Hers was blue, mine was red. Put a lot of miles on them. They’re long gone. A friend still has his 1961 Schwinn Traveler 3 speed in perfect condition. He always had the coolest toys and still does. Your grandson’s pleasure puts this bike in the priceless category. Congrats


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