My first bike was a metallic black JC Penney bicycle that I got when I was perhaps six years old. I had some difficulty learning to ride, but eventually I caught on. I liked to ride on dirt trails, but unfortunately, my black bike wasn't designed for this. I cracked the weld between the seat tube and the seat stay. We had it rewelded, but it didn't hold up.
My next bike was a Sears Free Spirit 10-speed with 24-inch wheels that used to belong to my aunt. It started out with gold paint, 10-speeds and two brakes, but by the time I was finished with it, it was white with one or two speeds and no brakes. I wore out a lot of sneakers riding that bike! I refused to ride the bus in junior high school, so most of the time I rode my bike. It was about two miles each way, and I rode in rain, snowstorms and sub-zero cold. I was tough back then. I tried riding my bike to high school, but the roads were busier and upperclassmen would taunt me from their cars. That put a scare in me, and I gave in to riding the bus (at least until I got a car).
Sometime in the middle of my Free Spirit's tenure, I got a sharp looking new twelve-speed made by Kia. It had a black frame with white letters, a red seat and red handlebar padding. No one had heard of Kia at that time (early 1980s), but from my experiences with the bike I would never buy one of their cars! The cranks worked their way loose soon after I got the bike and no amount of tightening would fix it. The chain would scrape against the front derailleur every time I pushed down on the right pedal. I gave up on it and went back to my trusty old Free Spirit, although the Kia sat in the garage for a few years before my dad disposed of it.
Just a few months before I got my driver's license, I got hit by a pick-up truck while riding my Free Spirit. The truck passed me, then braked and turned right across my path into a restaurant. My front wheel hit the side of the truck and I slid across the gravel-covered pavement of the parking lot. The guy was really apologetic, as he should have been considering that he was driving on a hardship license that only allowed him to drive to work and back (and no, he didn't work at the restaurant!). Anyway, he threw my bike in the back of his pick-up and drove me home. My dad was talking to him and told me later that if he'd smelled any liquor on his breath he would have punched him (my dad was a big guy with huge arms, so that would have hurt). My knee was cut pretty badly. Ever the Boy Scout, my dad tried to clean it out. He soon realized he was in over his head and took me to the urgent care center, where they put 15 stitches in my knee. I suppose the one benefit I got out of the experience was a hypersensitivity to vehicles turning right after passing me, a consciousness that has saved me from several painful situations since.
My next bike was the Raleigh.
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