When we moved to Wright Street, on the other side of town, I was introduced to my first big hill. Going down was fun but it ended on the Post Road at a spot where it began climbing another hill after passing over the Saugatuck River on its way to Norwalk. I’d go down and use my foot brakes because I still had a one speed American bike and then attempt to climb back up the hill. It was weeks before I was able to ride from a standstill at the base of Wright Street at the Post Road back to my house at the crest of the hill.
This bike was getting too small for me, another birthday brought me my first three speed English bike and I thought I owned the world. The world was suddenly bigger. I was riding longer rides and was joined by my neighbor John. He and I would spend the next half dozen years exploring Westport to the Norwalk border on the Post Road, where we’d ride to the new fifteen-cent hamburger joint or the store where we’d get a half dozen glazed donuts and lemon ices. We’d leave Westport on long ten-mile rides to Georgetown, beyond Wilton and Weston. On one such ride I had my first major accident.
The accident was probably my fault. One rainy day, I took my bike apart completely and laid it out on a large leaf blanket in the garage. It took me less than an hour to tear it down and almost two days to reconstruct it. I didn’t secure the handlebars well enough, because on that fateful day as I was careening down a hill on our return trip from Georgetown the handlebars didn’t hold and I went head over teacup into a bloody heap on the road, luckily in front of a nurse’s house. She bandaged me up while we waited for my parents to arrive and take my broken bike and me home.
Looking like the mummy, the mechanic at Western Auto showed me what I had forgotten to do to secure the handlebars and I learned more about my bike for future reference. My dad was none to pleased.
During middle school, my bike was my best friend and means of escaping the bullies. I removed the baseball cards from my spokes as they announced my whereabouts and I needed to be more stealth. I learned how to make running mounts to escape, to quickly accelerate and speed through the gears to gain more speed to escape the bullies. I was becoming an accomplished rider as hills and long rides didn’t faze me. Because I had a bike I had a paper route so I could make money for baseball cards. I still shoveled snow and mowed lawns, but I loved delivering newspapers most.
Instead of studying, I’d ride and that caused my parents to send me away to boarding school, which restricted my riding to the summers, which were spent on Nantucket. My bike was taken to the island and left in our new house there all winter. My freedom had been clipped as I was stuck in boarding school and released to a small island in the summer. Within a couple of years, I knew the entire island and had a handful of bike friends. I also learned more about bike maintenance, as I became friends with the Young family, the owners of the biggest bike shop on Nantucket. I learned how to fix flats, fix chains and do minor repairs. It was also where I first learned about ten speed bikes. An older brother of a friend was selling his ten-speed so he could upgrade to a motorcycle. I bought it for fifty dollars. It had Campagnolo parts. This was 1966 and it was a light blue frame, not azure blue, with a Campagnolo Grand Sport rear and front derailleur with center pull brakes and a sparrow seat. It was the fastest and meanest bike on Nantucket and it was mine. I only have the rear derailleur, which hangs on a nail in my house now. That bike lasted me until 1981, when it was finally destroyed by the streets of NYC and was replaced by a mountain bike, a Rock Hopper.
I was very fortunate not just to be on Nantucket for the summer but the neighbors across Union Street came from a town near my school and they always brought a gorgeous baby sitter with them, who in turn would invite her just as gorgeous friends from home for brief visits. I dated many of them and saw a few of them back at school. I got into the bad habit of riding without shoes before I got my ten-speed bike. I was still riding the three speed English bike. I would ride these girls on the bar as we went into town or to the movies or just around. One day to avoid an accident I got both feet caught in the spokes and cut my feet up real bad. I still have those scars. I was off the bike for a month and that was painful.
Once I got my ten-speed, I’d ride back and forth between town and Sconset, a seven and half mile ride, two or three or four times in a day for fun. In those days there was a half way restaurant where I’d stop for snacks. On occasion I’d make the big trip to Sconset and then around the Wauwinet Road back to town. I’d ride to Madaket and on dirt roads to the beaches like Cisco, Dionis, and Tom Nevers Head. The hardest part of riding on Nantucket was of course the cobblestones and I was determined to ride them from the base of Main Street all the way to the top where they ended at Liberty Street. I don’t know how bad it was on the bike or on me, but it was an important rite of passage. The cobblestones never gave me a problem.