I have been thinking a lot about Christmas morning 1980. I was about to turn 9. We’d moved to Mobile, Alabama the year before, and I’d made some new friends who were as into riding bikes and exploring as I was. The town was sprawling westward from the Mobile Bay, and our neighborhood was one of those planned developments, criss-crossed with a network of sidewalks in front of and behind the rows of houses. It was surrounded by the sorts of red clay and pine woods that are ripe for trail making.
The bike I found parked in front of the tree that year changed my life, not because it was better than the bike I had (it was), but because it enabled the best part of my imagination to carry me through the world with excitement, confidence and a joy I hadn’t known was possible. I’m not sure it cost more than $100, though it might have. My adult self does the math and then throws the pencil away. The sorts of experiences a bike gives you maybe can’t be broken down into dollars and cents.
On that bike, I pushed outward from home base, to the outskirts of the neighborhood, into other neighborhoods. With my friends, I stacked plywood on cinder blocks and jumped for distance. I laid long black skid marks down the new white sidewalks. I learned to ride no-hands. That bike, over time, became an extension of my body, and in doing so, it taught me that other bikes could do the same, the bikes I would grow into later.
It’s easy to get cynical, or anyway it’s easy for me. I feel worn down by these holidays where you’re expected to get things for people who don’t need things. The orgy of consumption leaves me feeling a little nauseous, stressed, and overwhelmed. I try to cling to that feeling I had, Christmas morning 1980, riding away from the house, the air thin and cold, rushing to the Luna’s house, to show them my new treasure, leaping the curb cuts, slaloming back and forth on hard, knobby tires.
I’ve had a whole lifetime of joy from the bicycle. I’ve learned big swaths of geography on two wheels, seen the most amazing things, met good people. These are the best gifts.
This week’s Group Ride asks, how does the bike fit in your Christmas? Did you have that bike under the tree experience, too? Have you passed that on to your own children? Do you have cycling traditions around the holidays? If not, how do you keep your sanity?