As we grow older we can’t help but notice the changes all around us relative to how we did things when we were young. Changes in how we socialize, changes in how we communicate, changes in how we travel and work, just to name a few. Some changes are for the better, some for the worse and some are still yet to be determined.
One of these changes jumped out at me the other day as I saw a young boy cruising down the street on his bike—typical bike for the times, sort of an inexpensive version of a trick bike complete with standing pegs front and back and a cool, albeit scratched up paintjob and…painted rims (bleh). The kid was riding along rather quickly, zipped across the grass into his yard, jumped off the bike and threw it to the ground. No, he didn’t even lay it down gently, he threw it down and went inside his house for the night.
I stopped in my tracks as I immediately flashed back to the 1970s to my own pride and joy: a matte black, 20-inch, Huffy Motocross bike! First one of its kind! I got this bike new for my 12th birthday (1974) and it was my very first new bike in my young life. This bike had a motorcycle style seat, motorcycle handlebars with the crossbar, a number plate affixed to the crossbar, rattrap peddles, chrome, yes chrome rims and knobby tires front and back! This was back during the explosion of the “English Racer” aka 10 speed era in our country, or at least in Elkview, West Virginia, but I dared to be different. That Huffy was a bike, I’m certain, my mom had to postpone some bills for me to have. But while others were going for speed, I headed for the dirt. I had riverbanks to explore, construction sites with large dirt and sand piles to moto on and, hey, if I wanted the street, it was good for that too! It took me to the baseball field for practice, to Conley’s Grocery for chips and a Frostie Rootbeer, launched me off homemade ramps, and took me on an evening ride to the bleachers at the junior high school where I saw JAWS at least six times that following summer on the drive-in screen next door. We would ride in groups just for the joy of friendship and to see what was going on elsewhere in the neighborhood or surrounding neighborhoods.
What was different in the 70s was, at the end of the day…when we got off our bikes, we put that kickstand down, parked it with love and even wiped it down if needed. Our bikes—were not just our transportation, but they were an extension of us—a reflection of our personality and something to be proud of. Back in the day, we knew bikes weren’t disposable. Our parents would not buy us a new one just because we had a flat tire. If we picked up a nail, we learned how to fix it. If that chain broke, we repaired it and rode home with greasy fingers. If we got rust on those chrome rims, we got out the navel jelly (no, not the mess from your little brother’s belly button…the pink stuff!) and we cleaned them! Comet worked well too! And if there was a junk bike in a garbage pile somewhere, we pulled it out and used it. We would cut the front forks off and make a chopper out of it and some other parts we had. We kept old chains for their links, ball bearings in case we ever lost any, and handlebars were never thrown away. Speaking of ball bearings, I remember doing maintenance on our bikes. We would turn them upside down, pull the wheels, re-grease the bearings (after cleaning them in gasoline) and reinstall. We taught ourselves and each other how to do this and by doing so we were learning much more than just how to grease bearings. We learned personal responsibility, teamwork with your buddy, and self-reliance and independence. So then as we got older, we learned how to do brake jobs, tune-ups and maintenance on our cars. We grew up to be a handy and resourceful generation.
Yes, our bikes were much more than just wheels to get us to a friend’s house—they were a part of us and my guess is we all have that one bike that we remember that we would love to have now, just to look at lovingly and recall all the joy it gave us back then. It would be sitting there in our garage with the kickstand holding it upright, chrome wheels gleaming clean, and ball bearings greased, torqued and ready to take you down the road!
Today, in my humble observance, kids hardly ride bikes the way we did back then and when they do, it is too often in the style of the boy mentioned above. I suppose it’s all just some old-guys longing for the good old days when we were taught the values of making it last—fixing what was broken and we learned to apply that to all areas of our lives.
I’m concerned for this young generation and their “use-it-and-toss-it” style. I’m afraid that we are teaching them they don’t need to take care of or respect anything or anyone. Our generation was awesome and we should encourage our youth to carry some of these values into the future. They are, after all, our future leaders of society. So, put your kickstands down kids—It’ll make an old guy smile.
I’m going for a bike ride!
Steve Kittner is a West Virginia Author raised on the Elk River…which will never leave his veins. You can like Steve Kittner Books on Facebook. Follow him on Twitter @SteveKittner and on Instagram @SteveKittner. His Books are available at Amazon.com in eBook or Paperback versions. You may quickly find them by clicking the link here.