It is spring and our minds have turned from comparing 4-wheel Drive systems to deciding between Meguiar’s Wax or Mothers Car Polish for our next car wash.
It won’t be long before you will have to pay a little bit closer attention when backing out of the driveway or proceeding from a stop sign, all because of the perennial favorite — the bicycle.
The adults rode “10 speeds”, the older people rode “Buses” with the antique handlebars and for years, boys and girls have ridden them with reckless abandon and crashed them with bitter heartbreak. Remember your first flat? It was the day your buddies had planned to try that new bike trail near the Forest Preserve or have that big race after school. Maybe you can recall Mag wheels, banana seats or tubular forks and wraparound steering. All these things made the effort of learning to ride a bike worthwhile. In my opinion, it also made for better drivers.
This generation has benefited from the advent of the computer, which led to video games and driving simulators. These things are really good for testing and training. However, there is still something to be said for peddling, wobbling and falling. It was all part of the exercise when I was coming up. You got your stripes (literally) when you fell off that bike and scraped your whatever. Some of us look at those abrasions and smile fondly to this day.
Riding a bike was more than just mastering mechanics, it was status. You gained status if you had the top-of-the-line bike with all the bells and whistles (I actually knew a kid who had a light, a bell and a whistle on his bike). You put playing cards or strips of cardboard in your spokes to make revving noises. Why? Because you realized at an early age that if your bike looked or sounded better than all the others on your block, you were king!
Biking also gave me insight into understanding how a car feels under different circumstances. I learned that I could lightly apply the brakes on my bike to scrub off some speed when approaching a turn. I learned the best spot to hit a turn long before I even knew what the word apex meant.
Riding my bike taught me about steering feel and balance. After all, you couldn’t look cool and ride with no hands unless your alignment was spot-on. Which of you who rode a bike in your childhood and didn’t experience hydroplaning when all the sprinklers on the block were on or tram lining down the uneven sidewalk?
Working on my own bike taught me about brake bias. If I tightened the front brakes too much, I would either sing soprano for a few hours or bust my chin. We had a resident bike mechanic on our block named George Eddings. He was the older kid who helped us when our inner tubes leaked or chains slipped. He also taught me about shifting gears on a bike, a lesson that must have been lost on me because I drive a car with an automatic transmission.
Before I picked up my first auto magazine or watched my first race, I understood how a vehicle reacts in oversteer or understeer conditions because of what I felt on my bike. I am not Bob Bondurant or Phil Hill by any means. I just think that when the bike was introduced to my life, so was the love of motoring. That is the natural evolution of things. You get a bike, learn how to ride, you master it and you move on to the car. If we get today’s young hands to grip more handlebars and fewer game controllers, our kids might be tougher and their reaction times quicker. I won’t let my kids touch car keys until they master the intricacies of the bicycle. America, let’s save the roads by saving the bike!