I was about five and living in San Rafael, California, with my mother and brother in an expansive mobile home community across the street from what would become Skywalker Ranch. My parents were divorced–separated before I was even born they had always been that way for me. Despite their divorce they maintained a more-than-cordial relationship. They were friends, and they parented together before the idea of “co-parenting” was even a term. We may have lived apart (my father lived in Chicago at the time, I believe) but we spent holidays together, and even went on family vacations together.
I woke up Christmas morning to find a brand new bicycle under my tree. I had never ridden a bike before, and had no idea how to do it. But my big brother had a bike and like most younger siblings I wanted to be just like him.
The bike had training wheels, and I remember my father standing behind me pushing me on it because even with two extra wheels I was nervous about falling off. There were no such things as helmets back then. You fell off a bike and you protected yourself with your arms and hoped those didn’t break. It was a BMX bike with a big number on the handlebars. I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world and I wanted to ride it so bad I don’t know if I even noticed any other presents under the tree.
There was one problem with the bike, though. I was a tall kid for my age, and the bike my parents bought me was a small bike. It was built for a normal five-year-old, one who was not four feet tall. It probably had 20-inch wheels, standard for a kid of that age. While today (and maybe even back then) people do tricks on bikes that are too small, or ride BMX on bikes that are too small, for me the idea of racing or trying to pop wheelies on my bike was not on the radar. I just wanted to ride. And the bike was simply too small for my tall frame.
Within a day or two of being pushed around on the bike it became apparent to my parents that this brand new bike that I loved was simply too small. I may be able to ride it now, but I would outgrow it in a year and they didn’t want to buy me another bike next year. They wanted me to have a bike I could ride for a while.
So we loaded the bike into the car and drove it back to the store. I don’t remember if I picked out the new one myself, but I do remember wanting one that had that big BMX number on the front. The bike we took home was an adult sized bike with 26-inch wheels and no training wheels. While I may have been a tall kid I wasn’t that tall. We had to lower the seat as far down as it would go and even then my feet would just reach the pedals. I couldn’t touch the ground without leaning the bike way over.
Which for me was no problem. I didn’t want to get off the bike. I wanted to ride forever. My father pushed the back of that bike until he knew I was keeping my own balance and then he let go. I screamed at him to keep holding on because I was so nervous about falling over, but before I realized he had let go I was already racing down the street, my parents standing on the sidewalk in front of our little mobile home watching me ride away.
Flash forward to Christmas 2016. My daughter has had three bikes so far, and she has outgrown each of them almost as quickly as she’s gotten them. Two years ago I found a 20-inch pink bike that I thought would last her until the end of elementary school. But she’s grown like a weed and is probably taller than even I was at that age. When she wrote to Santa asking for a new bike for Christmas, her mother and I, with the help of my mother and step-father, decided that’s exactly what she’d get. A brand new bike.
Like my first new bike this one couldn’t be a standard kid sized bike. She would outgrow it within a year or two, and then we’d just have to get her another one. So instead we found a beautiful classic looking cruiser bike. It has a rack in the front, fenders over both wheels, and is colored a shiny teal.
I spent most of the day yesterday putting it together while she was at school. It’s too big for her, sure, and when she rides it her feet will probably just reach the pedals. But hopefully like me she’ll just want to keep going and leave the stopping for her parents who can only watch their daughter ride away.
I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she gets up Christmas morning and sees it parked under the tree, almost exactly as she requested from Santa. It doesn’t have a big BMX number on it, but like mine from that Christmas 40 years ago it is a bike she’ll be able to grow into. And one that she’ll love for years to come.