Wheels of Freedom today
Wheels of Freedom Back in My Day…
Freedom for me has always come with wheels.
My first vehicle was a blue pedal car that looked a lot like my Dad’s 1965 Ford Mustang. That car was made out of steel, and it would go as fast as my little legs could push the pedals. I loved that pedal car and, though I got it when I was 5, I kept it until I was about 11. It ultimately became the primary obstacle for our Evel Knievel jumps on bicycles from the sidewalk in front of our next house.
Sure, I was cool in that pedal car as a toddler. I’d meet my dad in the afternoon in front of our house in Idaho Falls, Idaho. We would ride to the neighbor’s driveway, where we would both make a perfect 3-point turn to park – him along the curb, me on the sidewalk. I was just like Dad.
But my older brother, Kenny, was just like the big kids on the street. He was riding on 2 wheels, and going places my little blue toy car could never go. I was alone in that toy, while Kenny was out exploring a world I could only imagine… with the big kids.
Remembering Wheels of Freedom
When I finally got my first bicycle, I briefly felt that wheeled freedom again. But, I was still on four wheels, not two. The training wheels were a necessary source of embarrassment. I still wasn’t like the big kids. I remember adjusting the training wheels up a little higher, inch by inch, to diminish their effectiveness. I knew what I was doing; I was teaching myself to ride without them. And at night I dreamed about being on two wheels.
I don’t have a strong memory of my first solo ride without training wheels. It’s very likely that, by the time I got to that point, I had elevated the outrigger tires so high that they weren’t doing much at all. I sort of remember Dad running beside me with a hand on the seat of the bike, eventually letting me loose. Once I left those embarrassing supports behind, I knew freedom like never before. I could go further, I could ride faster, and I could taste the acceleration of an open ride down what we called the “dirt hills.” I was free.
When I was about 9, we moved exactly 3.3 miles away to a new neighborhood. It seemed like 20 miles at the time. But, we were now less than a mile from our school. This meant we no longer had to take the bus. We could ride our bikes. Wheels of Freedom.
My Wheels of Freedom are getting bigger
I had a different bike by then. Bigger, obviously. This one was yellow and had a banana seat. I don’t even know if they even make those anymore. I lived on that bike. I rode to school and back, explored the neighborhood and the surrounding area on that bike. I knew freedom on that bike. At one point, I lowered the front part of the seat, and raised the rear. This didn’t give me any place to sit when I rode, so I stood. But I could lean back against that seat and pop a wheelie like nobody’s business. That just magnified my freedom. I also learned to ride without touching the handlebars. I was one with the bike.
We did our best to emulate our hero, Evel Knievel, jumping from homemade plywood ramps over my beloved pedal car… and each other. The yellow bike with the banana seat proved to be a perfect daredevil ride for me.
A few years later, we left Idaho, crossed the country, and settled into a new home in Pennsylvania. I started riding a 10-speed with drop bars, but I spent much of my time on the four wheels of a skateboard. That was usually on my belly or my back, striving for insane speeds down steep inclines.
Then, Kenny bought a Harley. It was an AMF-Harley SX-125 enduro. After some time, I was invited to learn how to ride it. The first ride went something like this: Kenny showed me how to throttle, clutch and shift. I managed to do all three, right into a pine tree.
I don’t think I rode the bike much from that day until the day he joined the Marines and headed off to bootcamp. Then I tasted those wheels of freedom again. Kenny, if you are reading this, I hope you can forgive me for taking over the bike while you were gone. But, know this: I never crashed into a pine tree again. Key words: pine tree.
I would ride with friends on their Suzuki DR-400’s or Yamaha YZ-350’s. I was the kid with the training wheels again… until we stopped at one of their houses; at which point their fathers would inevitably come out and admire the Harley.
It was many years after that before I was in a position to buy my own bike, a Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster. I kept it for about a thousand miles, traded it in for a couple 4-wheel ATV’s, which I sold for cash. In 2006, I bought a brand new Sportster 1200 Custom. Our current ride is a 2005 Softail Deluxe.
It is true: freedom comes with wheels. But, through all of this, I have learned that it’s not about the vehicle you are on. It’s about your state of mind. Therein lies the freedom. The bike is only a tool to to help you get there.
And this is another reason why I ride.
What were your wheels of freedom growing up verses what they are now?