Charles Dube’s driveway. A stout piece of plywood and a stack of cinder blocks. We had jumped our bikes at nearly every house in the neighborhood, but his was the longest driveway and the best paved. We pooled at the back, next to his mother’s parked car and waited our turn to hurtle ourselves off the teetering ramp. The last jumper would linger by the takeoff to mark the distance.
As the day progressed we got bolder and began jumping over one another’s prone bodies, the bravery of the jump turning into the bravery of the jumped. It was that fearless time of youth when getting the lift of the front wheel just right seemed easy and power skidding into the gravel at the edge of the road is what you did, because you could. It was all effortless.
Perhaps not coincidentally Charles was the best jumper. A year younger than most of us, he was nonetheless the fastest both on and off the bike, that natural athlete letting us know, even at that age, that we were only average.
These days of jumping our dirt bikes seemed to go on and on. How many hours did we spend there daring each other to do ever more audacious and stupid things? How much blood did we shed from knees and elbows and sometimes heads? None of us had ever even seen a bike helmet.
I recall too sprinting down the sidewalk one day in the pouring rain, my friend Sean and I hustling to get to his house before we were soaked to our skins. And he just failed to lift his front tire to ford a curb and over he went, face first onto the sidewalk, the rain splashing angrily around him and his front teeth broken. I remember the blood streaming down his chin and the look on his mother’s face when we finally got there and the jagged smile he wore for months after.
I have had countless good and bad times on bicycles throughout my life. The intensity of the ones in my childhood seems to have imprinted the bicycle on my psyche, and I wonder if I had been a different kind of kid in a different kind of neighborhood if I’d ever have become the cyclist and person I am today. It’s a thing that is pleasantly impossible to know.
This week’s Group Ride asks what your cycling childhood was like. Did you ride BMX like I did? Were you the best jumper? Or was your path into this life different? What do you remember? And what, from that time, still inspires you now?
Image: Matt O’Keefe