Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Bicycles

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Do you remember learning to ride a bike? This was a bit of a sore spot for me. I was overweight and somewhat clumsy as a child and don’t think I learned how to ride a bike until long after many of my friends, probably somewhere around the transition to junior high. Around that time, I went through a growth spurt and got skinnier–I describe it as “stretching” where I grew but didn’t gain weight for a couple years.

When I finally did I was too big for one of those little bikes with training wheels. First, one of my friends let me learn on his 26″ Huffy, which I eventually rode from one end of the block to another, after many failed wobbly attempts though not too many skinned knees. So dad pulled my brother’s old Western Flyer out of storage, cleaned and lubed it up and made sure the coaster brake worked.

It was a big old bike. It had balloon tires, a heavy frame, a “tank”, and a carrier on back as well as wide, heavy fenders. It had one speed, which usually wasn’t very fast. I spent a lot of time at the Western Auto store in the Mahoning Plaza buying accessories for the bike–front and back lights, mirrors, and a speedometer. I think the fastest I ever got that bike to go was 30 mph, pedaling down the drive into Mill Creek Park from Calvary Cemetery. The challenge was stopping. When I went to apply the brakes, the whole thing shuddered and I barely got the bike slowed down without wiping out!

Eventually, I got tired of that big old bike that was nothing like the sleeker models most of my friends had. I wish I had it today because “retro” bikes like this are cool again. The last I remember, my dad had turned it into a stationary bike and I don’t know whatever happened to it.

I bought a 5-speed Schwinn Collegiate from a high school friend who had graduated to cars and didn’t really care about bikes. I still have that bike. It had a deep blue frame, chrome fenders and a comfortable seat. I had friends over in New Wilmington, PA, about a 20 mile ride and rode the bike there and back several times.

I loved riding when I had free time and during college bought a 10 speed Concord (also still hanging in our rafters) that was light and fast. It had racing handlebars, a hard racing seat to which my butt got accustomed. I loved to ride it through Mill Creek Park, speeding through curves, going full speed down Suicide Hill.

I suspect my guardian angel probably worked overtime during this period. I had several wipeouts on gravel, a few close calls with cars–and none of us wore bike helmets back then.

My wife’s experience was different. She also had a blue Schwinn bike with a basket that she wishes she still had. At some point her parents decided that she was too old for bikes and got rid of it. She later got a ten-speed when we were dating so we could ride together. But her experience reflected a difference between then and now. Most kids wanted to get a car as soon as they could drive. Bikes weren’t really seen as transportation, more as toys that we outgrew.

That began to change in our college years with the growth of an ecological consciousness and rising gas prices. Today things are very different. A number of friends cycle to work at the university on a bikeway from the north end of our city to campus. More and more of our roads have bike lanes. Still it has been a long time since I’ve ridden and the traffic in our city scares me. I might be tempted to break out the old bikes someday, but it is probably more likely that I’ll enjoy the memories of summer afternoons cycling through Mill Creek Park and some of the other back roads outside of Youngstown.

2 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Bicycles

  1. Bob
    A great post. My parents bought me a Western Flyer at the Western Auto Store at the Mahoning Plaza. It was a beautiful aqua metallic 26 inch model. At first it was too big for me and I pedaled standing up. I spent many hours riding in Mill Creek Park. The lure of driving at 16 separated me and the bike 😀.
    Thanks for bringing back a good memory
    Michelle

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