Of Sibling Skirmishes, Childhood Summers, and My Own Tour de Neighborhood

A tender look back at a battered red bike that filled one little girl’s summers with joy.

I have three older sisters. We shared one bicycle when we were growing up.

You can imagine the gnashing of teeth, the punches thrown and the hair pulling that went on every time we got home from school, just to grab the supreme privilege of being able to ride the bike first, or perhaps for the rest of the afternoon, in our grubby little paws.

OK, so maybe we weren’t as violent as all that. But it’s true, our family did have only one bike back then; my father had passed away and life after him was spent, for the most part, tightening our belts and using what money we did have on necessities like food, tuition and house repairs. Buying new toys had to be put on hold for a while. But my father did buy a bike for my eldest twin sisters maybe a couple years before he passed, so all four of us were able to learn how to ride a bike — quite expertly, I might add — during our younger years.

Man. Being the youngest in a brood of four girls meant that I had to wait patiently for my older sisters to finish with their turn on everything — the bike, the bathroom, the telephone (no mobile phones back then), the latest magazines, the most popular hair accessories, you name it — before I could finally have a go.

Sometimes, I couldn’t wait and the temptation to start a revolution and bring down the Empire of Elder Sisters for a chance to go first on the bike for a change was too strong, so a minor scuffle did occur here and there. Especially during the summer, when our mom allowed us to go out of the house at 4 p.m. and play to our heart’s content with the neighbors’ kids, as long as we all headed back home by 6 p.m.

That was prime biking time. On the days when my sisters finally found something else to occupy their time (especially when they edged closer and closer to teen age and playing outdoors no longer appealed to them as much), I’d step out of our front door with a swagger in my step. I’d approach my waiting steed — our much-loved red BMX bike — propped against a wall inside the garage, inspect its chains, give the handlebars a quick squeeze to say “hello,” and adjust the seat to my preferred level of comfort.

From our garage, our driveway slopes down to the front gate, and right outside the gate is a long stretch of suburban road that makes riding a bike such a pleasure. I always thought that our downhill driveway was a gift from the gods (a god named “Dad,” of course) because it allowed us to push off on our bike, swoop down, pick up speed, and launch into the road with a fierce entrance. My mom was always worried that we would rush headlong into a passing vehicle the minute our bicycle sped past the open gate, but for all our theatrics and daring stunts (as daring as nine-year-old girls can get, really), we never got into a single accident on that bike. My trustworthy steed, indeed. And the rest of the afternoon would go by in a blur as I pedaled through one street after another, until I came home tired, a little sunburnt, but extremely happy.

Old and battered as it became through the years, our family took loving care of the bike. It wasn’t the most expensive or popular model at the time of purchase, but my mom when to great lengths to find places that could perform repairs or replace parts if needed. Kids have it a lot easier today — there are plenty of bicycle retailers, such as Ivanhoe Cycles, that help bike owners and enthusiasts find bikes, accessories, cycling clothes, tools, services, and everything else that they would ever need online (which reminds me, I’ll need to visit https://ivanhoecycles.com.au/ soon to look for some functional yet stylish cycling clothes for my sisters and I for our upcoming annual biking escapade, which we celebrate in honor of our beloved childhood bike).

Unfortunately, that faithful little red bike has given our family all that it could by the time I reached my own teenage years, and we lovingly laid him to rest (but not without countless pictures and lots of reminiscing over lemonade and cookies on a hot summer afternoon — just like old times).

I can only wish that today’s children would put down their smartphones and tablets long enough to run excitedly out of the house on a summer afternoon, hop onto their bike, and explore their neighborhood with their little friends, also on two wheels. It’s the best feeling ever.

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