Wednesday, August 26, 2009

BMX-rated: the Pain of Adolescent Fred-dom (Part I)

While this post is about riding BMX, there’s really no clever erotica tie-in to my title. I’m just hoping to increase hits to my blog. However, BMX, or bicycle moto-cross for those who’ve been hiding under their bed for 30 years (hi Mom!), is the first kind of cycling I did. Before that, I was not aware that there were kinds of cycling. I just rode my bike around.

Thinking about this made me realize I mis-remembered something in a previous post. My first bike was not an orange Raleigh folder. That was my second bike. My first real bike was a light-blue and orange Raleigh one-speed. It had upright bars and hand-brakes. By steadily raising the seat post, I was able to ride it around for a couple of years. “Around” is exactly where I went: since I was not allowed to cross the street, I would ride lap after lap around our London block, waving to shopkeepers and occasionally infuriating stiff British pedestrians. It was a sort of infantile Nascar (or, Nascar) except I went clockwise. To this day I am much better at turning right.

Eventually, I outgrew that little blue bike. Christmas 1973 (I think), found me tip-toeing about on my skinny, white little-kid legs, practically vibrating off the floor with excitement at the prospect of getting a new bicycle. What Santa brought me was the safety-vest orange Raleigh folder. It was a Sturmey-Archer three-speed with chrome fenders, 20-inch wheels and a step-through frame. With a flourish, my dad demonstrated how it folded up into itself. Clearly, Santa was a Fred. I was thrilled. So shiny! So orange! So many levers and gizmos!

A year later, we moved back to the US, to Southern California where my grandma lived. And so it came to be that in the middle of 70’s Malibu, I aimed my orange Raleigh down the steep hill in front of our new white stucco house to go meet the neighborhood kids. Let’s pause the narrative for a moment to fully appreciate this situation. It was the mid-Seventies in Malibu, California. Tanned, blond surfer kids were inventing skateboarding. Steely Dan poured from the eight-tracks at Zuma beach or from the car stereo in daddy’s Porsche. It was down into this vortex of cool that I piloted my dork-tastic Raleigh, complete with pasty white legs, a fey British accent and a pair of snug Swiss shorts with a great number of utility pockets. My cycling experience consisted mainly of circling one square block of London approximately 147,000 times.

I took off down the hill and soon exceeded my personal best speed record. I had to shift all the way to Gear 3! Fortunately, with judicious braking, I was able to navigate the sweeping turn at the bottom of the hill with hardly a wobble and with my wee undershorts mostly dry. Around the curve, the street turned south towards more suburban homes. On the left side was a hill covered in bright green iceplant, with a view that fell away to the aquamarine Pacific. On the right was an empty lot with what looked like an obstacle course winding around it. A bunch of shaggy, loose-limbed, tween-aged boys were hanging around, their bikes strewn about them. I introduced myself. Politely and grammatically.

They stared at me like I had just unscrewed my own head. Then they proceeded to cap on every aspect of me, my clothing, my accent and my hapless Raleigh.

Fortunately, I was too clueless, and their surfer lingo too impenetrable, to know how thoroughly I was being ridiculed by these strange, tan-colored, long-haired children. That and I was too busy being amazed by their bikes and the things they did with them. Their bikes had mag wheels, reinforced frames and knobby tires. They were covered in pads. They looked like a cross between construction machinery and exercise equipment. Heretofore I was not allowed to touch either of those things. Of course those kids wouldn’t let me touch their bikes either. But they did challenge me to try my own bike on the BMX track they had built in the empty lot.

I had never seen, nor even imagined that you could ride a bike the way these kids did. They swooped around banked curves and flew through the air like Hang Ten-clad clad swallows. Yes, their bikes actually flew. And hopped, and jumped and spun about in mid-air. So while I was more than terrified at the prospect, I desperately wanted to learn to do those things on my bike.

I eyed up a jump made of packed dirt on the weedy edge of the lot. It was approached by riding down the street and up a piece of plywood ramping over the curb (or kerb as I pronounced it then). With the blood roaring in my ears, I pedaled up the street what I thought was a prudent distance. My new friends shouted encouragement, I pointed the Raleigh downhill and pedaled for all I was worth. I’m pretty sure my eyes were closed when I hit that plywood ramp, barreled up the jump and launched into the air. Like a Comet (the underpowered Mercury, not the celestial body), the Raleigh and I traced an arc across the deep blue Malibu sky before landing, front wheel first, in the classic “endo”. My feet flew off the pedals and I was launched off the saddle directly into the large lever on the stem that released the folding mechanism. In the local parlance, I “totally racked my ‘nads.

It hurt more than anything I had yet experienced. I knew at that moment that any hopes of a career as an adult film star (a popular Malibu choice of employment) were to go unrealized. But, miraculously, outstandingly, I did not fall off my bike. I sort of awkwardly came to a stop Flintstones-style, my little black Clark slip-ons dragging through the dust as I gripped the bars like a college freshman holds on to a shred of reality in their first bad experience with psychedelics. Stranger still, and despite the wrenching fire in my groin (but much like that freshman the first time they took psychedelics), I was giggling uncontrollably. I’d never experienced anything so crazy, dangerous, wild and fun.

I was still beaming when one of the kids pointed to my bike and said, “hey bro, you like totally thrashed your fork.” Not having any idea what that meant, I looked where he was pointing and, sure enough, the front fork of my prized Raleigh was bent forward twenty degrees and was cracked at the crown. Possibly, the designers at Raleigh had not anticipated that a folding commuter would be used for powered flight. This was a seminal moment in the making of a Fred: it awakened, deep within my soul, a profound desire for new, and better gear. Sweet, sweet gear.

I pointed the Raleigh back up the hill and started pushing it home, walking gingerly as if trying to hold an egg between my thighs.


  1. I'm crying from laughing!

  2. Great. I remember riding my Raliegh onto the dessert hardpan when i 1st got to Tueson (sp) and the kids said it'd get a flat. I did.

    The Comet was an underpowered Mercury.



  3. Thanks Tom, I corrected my automotive faux pas.

  4. I had a Schwinn Collegiate 3-speed when BMX hit and I was similarly ridiculed. By the end of summer I had a looptail "P.K. Ripper".