My first bike was a Ross Bicentennial. I was six or seven years old when my father brought this bike home. He had found it in his scrap yard, which was on North 5th and Kent in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
I remember three things about it: First, that it had training wheels on it and when I rode it, it made a grinding noise that my friends and I thought sounded like “a real motorcycle”. Second, I knew it was a girl’s bike and was embarrassed to ride it. Finally, I remember doing the mental calculation that 1976 was two-hundred years after 1776, and from that, I realized what “bicentennial” meant. I can also remember being impressed that the two-hundredth anniversary of our country’s founding was already so far in the “distant” past.
Around second or third grade, I remember coming to a realization about bicycles during “show and tell”. A kid was showing off his broken arm, which he’d gotten riding a bike. As a child, I was deathly afraid of “getting stitches” or breaking a bone, and I correlated my classmates’ various injuries with their stories of falling of their bikes. So I decided if I never rode a bike, I would be safe from harm. Unloved and unridden, this bike was eventually given away to one of our neighbors’ children, who I hope loved it more.
I finally learned to ride a bike when I was twelve years old. Mrs. Cooney, a neighborhood stay-at-home mom who babysat me after school, taught me to ride. She shamed me into it by pointing out her eight year old daughter Erin was already riding. I still remember that little pink bicycle with a yellow saddle, and the brief exhilaration of my first ride before crashing into the pavement. Mrs. Cooney picked the asphalt out of my hands while I bit down on a rag, crying in pain but also planning my next ride.