Bicycling, a history.

The first non-tricycle that I remember was a banana-seated high-riser that I used in the late 1960s while living on a tree-farm outside of Mt. Brydges, Ontario. I was 8 years old then, and that “wheelie bike” served me well on gravel roads, the driveway and through the neighbour’s tobacco fields. I collected my first scar with that bike, when hitting a strand of wire stretched across the entry to the field, cutting the bridge of my nose but thankfully missing my eyes.

A bike like this, but second-hand, without 5 speeds, and without the attached kid. (from a 1967, J. C. Penny catalogue).

However, memories of a true bicycle-craving go back to my pre-teens while living in South Africa. For a few years in the early 1970s, we lived in an old farmhouse in the veldt, about 30 km south of Johannesburg. I can’t remember what triggered the passion, but the craving was fiercely strong and resolute. I pestered my parents relentlessly for a two-wheeled wonder, but nothing was forthcoming until I started collecting scrap bike parts — a twisted frame, a buckled wheel — in the desperate hope of eventually building my own bike. This — no doubt due to sheer embarrassment — finally triggered my parents to take me to a bicycle shop, where, walking past all that was shiny and new, they settled on an affordable used bike in the racks in the back of the store. It was a Dutch-style fiets, a black upright single-speed utility bike, big, but usable. And use it I did, bashing up and down the gravel road that led from our home. Sometimes I used it to visit a friend in the nearby town of Walkerville or go to the local dairy to pick up a bucket of milk. Indeed, it was on such an errand that I experienced my first dog bite and a visit to the hospital in the city of Vereeniging.

Later, while living in East London (Eastern Cape Province) my best friend was Peter, a true cycling fanatic who rode with the local club and who owned several bikes. One of which, a fixed-wheel, I borrowed occasionally, and I soon learned to ride it safely. Later, during our last years in South Africa, while living in Brakpan, I also had a bike, which I used to ride with friends and, most often, trips to the library. It was while reading in the local library that I learned about bicycle touring and fell in love with that idea. †

Since then, as a youth back in Canada, I have owned several bikes. First, a cheap ten-speed drop-bar bike while attending high school, which was later stolen. Then there was a decade-long gap where I wallowed in car-culture before I finally “invested” in a Giant Sedona Mountain bike. Occasionally I used it to cycle to work on the south side of the city, and its use continued after our daughter was born, when I cycled to part-time evening work. It sits in the garage now, partially dismembered, awaiting decisions on whether I should bother trying to refurbish it.

The passion for cycling resurfaced in 2018. Because of health reasons, I needed to diet and exercise to lose weight. After struggling with the worn-out Giant, I finally decided to invest in a new bike. I began researching. By the Fall I had decided that a gravel bike would suit my needs best, but the bikes in the local bicycle stores I had my eyes on were not my size (58cm) or beyond my budget. When the Spring of 2019 rolled around, I finally saw an opportunity.

My Trek Checkpoint ALR 5, freshly washed in the back garden.

I was hoping to get a light-weight carbon bike, but I found my budget would not bring me into that range of bicycles without settling for less durable components, so I eventually decided on a new 2020 aluminium model, the Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 with the new Shimano 105 group set. It was on sale at United Cycle, but although still somewhat over budget, I thought the extra dollars’ worth the risk of wifely wrath. I bought it in April and I’ve been whizzing about on regularly ever since, on pavement, gravel roads, bike paths and trails. I have never enjoyed exercise more. It has been a major factor in weight loss, increasing my fitness and in moving me out of the doldrums. I am now looking forward to the spring thaw to get me in the saddle again and out on the roads and trails.

† An interest as yet not pursued.

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