I’m not sure what time of year it was, my mind instantly thinks Summer but that’s probably just me and my nostalgia romancing the whole memory up. Or it could be that as a child growing up in sunny Southern California every day in my childhood memory bank seems to be a beautiful summer day. I don’t know. Anyway, I do know the year was 1971 though. And that makes me a lanky 6 years old when I had received my first real bike. It was a bicycle called the Schwinn Apple Krate. Looking back it might have been a little more bike than I was ready for. But back in the “good ol’ days” it was a common practice to buy bikes a little big so your kid could “grow into” it. And I think that’s what dad did.
But I didn’t give one single shit what his reasons were, I was stoked.
Man that bicycle was a work of art. It was built around the super popular Sting-Ray platform. And it was BAD ASS. It was like having a hot rod for a bicycle. All of the other kids in the neighborhood were obviously jealous. I gave them all turns to ride my beauty. She was a shiny, candy apple red. She had a sissy bar and a red sparkly banana seat. She was a 5 speed, with the “car like” stick shift mounted in the center of the top tube. She had a small 16″ front wheel and a chrome springer front fork. There was a 20″ wheel with a flat, dragster type “slick” tire doing the work in the rear. She also sported a full set of sporty, chrome fenders. And to top it off she had a pair of full blown ape hanger handle bars, in chrome with red sparkle Schwinn grips. She was a sight, absolutely stunning. She changed everything for me as that was the first real bicycle my dad ever bought me. And when I say first “real” bike, I mean the first quality bicycle, from an actual bike store. Not like the others from a department store. Sure, I had fun on those department store bikes as well, but the Schwinn…man that was a machine to be reckoned with. It was serious shit. That one, single bicycle literally started my love affair with the bicycle.
As the days rolled on, I rode the shit outta the Krate. I was on her every, single day. She took me everywhere. The whole neighborhood got smaller as I explored places I had never gone before. As much as I was riding her I was cleaning and polishing her, usually when my dad would wash his car on the weekends. He always told me to be grateful for the things you have by taking exceptional care of them. So I did. All of the time. That bike gleamed in the Southern California sun every day I rode her.
Moving on. It was 1972 when my family moved. The house we moved into was the first house built in the whole neighborhood so there was a lot of open dirt lots everywhere. And with all of this dirt around where I was riding, something started to change in the way I rode. I wanted to ride in the dirt and wanted to ride faster while in said dirt. Plus, I was longing to jump things…shit, I wanted to jump everything.
So I did. And after a year or so of really honing my dirt riding skills I discovered this little bicycle movement starting to catch my attention. You may have heard of it, it was called Bicycle Moto Cross or BMX as you might know it now. Here’s the kicker about BMX…people were racing their Sting-Rays! And hey, wouldn’t ya know it, I have one of those! Shit yes!! So I talked to my dad and we started stripping the Apple Krate of some of her parts. Heck, it was cheaper than buying a whole new bike…and mine was in great shape and ready for the challenge. So boom, the fenders…gone. The 16″ front wheel replaced with a 20″ front wheel to match the rear. New dirt specific, knobby, motocross type tires were mounted on both front and rear wheels. Gone was the rear 5 speed freewheel only to be replaced with a single speed 16 tooth freewheel. Only a rear hand brake was needed and motocross styled handlebars replaced the ape hangars. The banana seat was also removed and replaced with a single person performance saddle.
I raced her like that at the Orange track for awhile…I don’t know exactly how long. But it was for a good year or so…hell, I can still recall my Sting-Ray at the track with a paper plate taped to the bars as a number plate. As much as I loved her, she wasn’t really cutting it. She was heavy and not really strong enough to take the beating BMX dishes out. And new BMX specific technology was arriving on the scene.
Well, my father and I talked and I may have convinced him that I needed a new BMX specific bicycle for Christmas. My dad took me to the original Village Schwinn Bike Shop in Yorba Linda and I picked out a beautiful, shiny new Webco BMX bike with Skyway Tuffwheel mags. She was killer. And I got her on Christmas day. That was a fantastic Christmas.
I was faster on the Webco. I was going to the track every weekend. I was having a blast until that fateful day in 7th grade when I came out of school to ride my bike home and all that was there was my bike lock…cut in half. I was devastated. I rode that bike everywhere. I raced on it, explored on it, rode around the neighborhood with my kid sister on it and went to my friends houses on it. Sometimes during Summer vacation it felt that I would get up, get on my bike, be gone riding ALL DAY and return only for dinner. I didn’t know what would happen without it.
I went to my dad again when he got home that night and told him what had happened at school earlier. He saw how sad I was. He said he’d take care of it. What the fuck did that mean? Was I getting a new bike, was he going to find the thief and kick his ass and get my wonderful Webco back? I didn’t have a goddamn clue.
So I walk to school the next day wondering what my two wheel fate is going to be. What will dad do? It was a mystery. I’m sure I couldn’t concentrate in school that day. When I got home my mom told me that dad will be bringing me home a new bike. What!? Really? Well when will he be home? I was losing my mind with excitement. Those, to this day, may be the longest 4 hours of my entire life.
I hear the garage door open and hear my dad’s car pull in. I run down stairs when I hear him come into the house. I hug him, say hi and head straight out to the garage…a Schwinn Varsity 10 speed road bike?! What in the living fuck is that?! Wow. How can a father be so kind and out of touch all at one time? I don’t know, but apparently my dad had that kinda shit wired.
Sure he got me a new bike, and it was a really nice bike. But really? How in the fuck do I race that? I was racing BMX every weekend for years. I didn’t steal my bike, why am I being punished? ….What dad? Oh, it’s time for me to “grow-up”? Oh. Ok. I turn to him and fake a smile and tell him “thank you so much dad, it’ll be fine.”
That weekend I rode the bike to the local neighborhood, homemade BMX track and proceeded to ride and jump that 10 speed all over the place. Unfortunately as you may or may not know a Schwinn Varsity is built like a Sherman tank. I couldn’t break it. I tried, but I couldn’t.
It’s 1980, my mom and dad have split for good. I live with my mother and sister. I have been skating more than riding my new Schwinn Beach Cruiser that my dad had gotten my sister and I about three years before the split. Until I hear about these guys taking old Beach Cruiser type bikes and riding and racing them in the Northern California mountains. They were modifying them with stronger forks and handlebars and calling them “mountain bikes”. And, hey!! Wouldn’t ya know it? I have one of those!! I can do that with my beach cruiser!! So I did. I changed to lighter alloy rims, a lighter alloy three piece crank set, new tubular forks, a BMX stem and handlebar and a “hairpin” Brooks leather saddle. What a blast that bike was, I rode that thing everywhere on and off road. I loved my bike again.
So let’s summarize this lengthy post: Every bike I owned as a small kid and into adolescence was a top quality bicycle. Nope…let me rephrase that. Every top quality bike I owned as a small kid all the way through adolescence was given to me by my father. Every one. From dear ol’ dad. Even the one I hated. The man knew and continues to know the value of a quality product. And he worked hard to earn the money to be able to do that. And he knew that it was, more often than not, money well spent. He also taught me to value and take care of the things I own. Which I do.
Now, I have raised all of my children to love and cherish bicycles. Not as something that is just good for your health. But more importantly, that bicycles are good for your soul and mental health as well. And like my dad, I have assured that the bicycles that my family are on are quality machines.
So hug your dad today, it’s Father’s Day. And raise a glass especially high to the dad’s that let their kids be kids and ride like the wind.
And finally, here’s to you pop…and to the memories and freedom you’ve helped me achieve through out my childhood on the quality bicycles you had bestowed upon me. For that I am grateful. And here’s to me, for learning from you how to do the same for my children with the bicycles they have had. For that my children are grateful.
Happy Dad day! Cheers all.