Do you remember the first time?

there’s a heart-warming story about Ivan Basso on few cycling bongo pages at the moment. essentially, he’s got a personal museum of every single bike he has ever ridden, it’s in his garage. i presume his car is parked outside. however…

I’m missing my very first bike, The one which my Dad brought home one evening when I was four years old, making me the happiest kid in the world; the one that I used for my first training rides which at the time was just playing, which I used for my first races with the team from the Oratorio di Cassano Magnago. I’ve managed to recover all the other bikes, but I haven’t managed to find this one, “I remember it as if it were in front of me right now; small, blue, made by Asperge. It’s all I think about… it has an enormous sentimental value for me, because that little bicycle is linked to my first memories as a racer.”

i’d hazard a guess that’s it not this one he’s referring to:

which got me thinking about my first bike, although there’s something about the gift of a bike from father to son that clearly is an important rite of passage. it was a dark metallic blue with solid rubber tyres. the handlebars were shiny with white grips. that’s about all i can remember. i rode it furiously round the mean streets of williton. i remember later bikes better, but invariably they belonged to my dad and i used to get frequently keel-hauled for pilfering his pink and white raleigh routier on epic journeys of around 10 miles, escaping the parochial confines of barnstaple for a blissful morning of riding along the tarka trail, out towards fremington and bideford. happy days.

beyond that, and probably for most people my age (old, but not too old), the key bike in terms of personal myth-making is the bmx. Mine was from halfords. it was delivered by ship because we lived a long way away and my parents were friends with an oil tanker captain who got another oil tanker captain to bring it out on his ship. this is a true fact. i remember being told of the bike’s progress – at one point it was caught in a storm in the bay of biscay and they had to put in to oporto or somewhere – i liked to believe that this was to save the bike from becoming flotsam. when it arrived, after two months or so, we went out to the ship – a maersk oil tanker – and I rode it around, avoiding ropes and other seafaring hazards, bunnyhopping against the swell. it was quite possibly the most exciting thing to have ever happened, perhaps before and since.

believe it or not, here is a picture of me riding the bike on the ship:

see the neck-high anchoring rope? next to the ship is the other ship that delivered the bike. i don’t like to use rhetorical questions, but can you even imagine how mind-blowing this was? i think the bike was a halfords team 20. the stunning red finish was matched only by the serious chroming. i skidded through tyres, broke chain links, vaulted drainage ditches, the works. and always in team issue red. this is the bike that, all things considered, started a life-long infatuation with the infinite joy of cycling. after years of service, it was superceded by a racer – now known to all people as ‘road bikes’, but back in the day, they were racers – and the bmx went to live with my cousin george in south molton; where it may or may not still reside, in slowly rusting ignominy, unridden, and alone. but i’m getting all anthropomorphic, which never helps.

i put a bike together recently for belle’s sister, rescuing a nigel dean 531c road frame and imbuing it with a new lease of life through the dark magic of velo-galvanism, and she seemed genuinely excited by it. people don’t tend to realise just how significant an effect a light, whippy bike can have on their enjoyment of cycling per se, and it’s great to see the change in attitude, the sudden emergence of a few peculiar things – riding for the sake of riding, and the ‘time spent on the bike’ becoming one of the best and most-looked-forwards-to parts of the day. i don’t really like mark ronson, at all, but i think he captures a small bit of the innocence that riding a bike recaptures in people. possibly. more than pink floyd did with their psychedelic lunatic paean to things two-wheeled. and i say recaptured, because as basso seems to suggest, and as i’ve fleetingly confirmed, bikes are an integral part of childhood, and without putting too elaborate a point on it, there’s an umbilical innocence that connects the freedom of cycling, the unsimplified joyousness of moving on two wheels, with those first nascent experiences of adventure provoked by learning to cycle. and i don’t think this connection ever quite goes away.

incidentally, if you find ivan basso’s first bike, he’ll swap it for a maglia rosa. i suggest you have a look in the loft.

4 thoughts on “Do you remember the first time?

  1. Adam November 17, 2010 / 10:47 pm

    ^ oops. mess of link with following unrelated sentence. not sure what happened there?

  2. Matt November 21, 2010 / 10:39 pm

    A classic Mint Sauce, says it all for me.

  3. bertraum November 23, 2010 / 7:37 pm

    so near adam! just forgot the maersk oil tanker.

    and the comic strip is awesome.

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