Back in the mid 80’s, Twisted Sister put out the craziest rock video to date. Twisted Sister was not supported by mothers and fathers, but the kids loved it!! In the iconic Twisted Sister scene, an angry father has his son backed up in a corner for not getting good grades or doing his homework or something. The man is frothing at the mouth and slowly and forcefully spills his spittled words, point blank into his son’s face.
“WHAT do YOU want to DO with your LIFE?”
Well, the skrawny kid jumps up, spins around in a half dozen circles and turns into a huge 80’s butt rocker clad in black and red striped motorcycle leather from head to toe. His permed curls stood straight up due to the full can of hair spray recently emptied on to his head. Now equally pissed off and towering over the dad in a thunderous cloud of smoke, he yells, “I WANNA ROCK!!”
That was a far cry from today, but those years are clearly etched into a generation’s memory. Back then new companies of BMX freestyle bikes lit up the scene across America with characters such as Radical Rick. Geeky skateboarders with their progressively cheezy fashions began ‘tic-tac-ing’ down the street and ‘ollying’ on and off curbs riding oversized foot rockets in search of the new neighborhood half pipe ramp. We had just started hearing about a guy who wore a yellow spandex shirt named Greg Lemond who basically was our first and only hope for road cycling in Europe. Back on this continent, the granola nation was enjoying breakthroughs in touring technology as if they’d just passed through the light at the end of the tunnel. “Dude, check this out, man!! This new Raleigh can shift gears from the handlebars instead of on this tube going down to my cranks. Naah-ha-ha-ha! Far out, man! That’s really slick.”
Nope, this new young generation wanted nothing to do with Bob Hope’s plaid knickered black and white TV lifestyle. Nor did they want the sequins or bell bottoms of thier disco parents. They wanted bermuda shorts, Vans, and half topped muscle shirts. They wanted Ray Ban sunglasses, jean jackets, and rolled up Levi’s. Popular rich kids drove trucks loaded with the off duty cheerleaders screaming in the back, hands waving in the air to attract attention from whoever was in that small and outdated, mid sized sedane in the lane beneath them. Muscle cars from the 70’s, cranked out White Snake from the speakers in the trunk. If you were old enough to drive, the California lifestyle of cruizing the strip was en vogue once again, but now it was in poe dunk towns across the Iowas and Idahos and South Carolinas of our nation.
If you did not have a car, parents didn’t worry back then because the bike wasn’t considered an X-game. Who needed a helmet? It was just a seven mile ride across town!! You either crossed the highway or you didn’t. Routes went through neighborhoods, wooded trails, dirt roads and alleys, or side walks! It was safe! You had been doing it ever since 1st grade.
Can we go to the store? Take your bikes!! Heading to the lake to jump off the cliffs? Let’s ride! Wanna go play hoops? Let me grab my bike. Take you to see a friend? No thanks, I’ll just ride.
The Pepsi Challenge was on, McDonalds, Burger King, and Taco Bell were considered pretty good food joints, and drive thru coffee stands didn’t exist. Red Bull was called Jolt Cola and Rainier and Coors were craft beers. Drugs were cool to deal (or not) and a pretty descent way to make a living, pay for school, and keep the animal house lifestyle alive… til the guns went off and sent paranoid schizofrenics diving for cover. Things did get a bit out of hand and we reconciled in time. Through it all, there was the bike.
Years passed, but the ride didn’t change all that much and the cool thing about biking is that it never went out of style. Fads and fashions came and went, but biking withstood the test of time. It always moved forward, but remained the same. The shadows under the street lights and humm of the tires on the road are still the same as they were decades ago, though now way to many people are flashing LED lights off their handlebars and red blinkies on their backpacks, as though the extra attention is necessary. Personally, I liked NOT being seen in traffic and in cities.
It was tough back then. Seems like nobody truly missed out on tough times in some way or another. For one, divorce was sky rocketing. In my case, he was a preacher turned country-swing dancer and cheap thrills seeker. She was a stay at home mom waiting up late and living with a heavy heart. When it was time to play Leave It To Beaver, verbal blows started as whispers escalted to shouting and door slamming. She would end up worried about how to make a living in the future and he’d end up sleeping in the car by the field at the edge of the sub-division, because he wanted to remain near the family. What a way to stay close, huh?
Us two kids did not witness the brunt of their exchanges because alot of the problems took place before we got off the school bus and walked the hundred yards back home. But the tension felt like a cold empty house in a Russian winter. Forelorn and grievous, isolated, and starving. So, with my friends all within a few miles of the house, the bike seemed a logical way to get out of a bad situation and maybe even a few chores. There was like, twenty-six of chores to do every Friday, and if one of them wasn’t done right, money was getting deducted from the weekely allowance. Then there was the animals!! They needed attention twice a day. A horse, two rabbits, a ferret, the miniture collie, and three cats. A fire newt, two hermit crabs, four teddy bear hamsters, a dozen fish here, a bubble-eyed black gold fish there, not to mention the birds!!! Two parakeets, two cockatiels, two obnoxiously screeching lovebirds, a cockatoo, and the sweetest bird of all, Plum-head, the plumheaded parakeet also known as a ring-necked parakeet. Who wouldn’t want to get out of the house, right? The American dream! It all disappeared with time.
The bike was my solice. The retail stock bike was gone. Mine was pimped out!! The first visual feature of the bike was the highly coveted Haro number plate with the 70’s style number 7 that gleamed in the sun. With finish line black and white checkered flags along the top, the racing number plate commanded a $25 price at the local bike shop back in ’82 and can still be found on Ebay for up to a 1000 bucks! Whaaaaat? I KNOW!! The knobbied back tire went bald, and the balder, the badder! The standard straight seatpost became a stylish GT layback seat post and those generic chainrings turned into chrome Power discs. The standard imitation leather seat morphed into a new plastic Viscount Aero saddle for the ages! To top it off, I replaced those spokes with mags wheels too! And let us not forget — weight mattered, especially for jumps! That was when I was young.
We kept growing though. For many of us, bicycles got shoved into attics above the garage or even got stolen. Names like Gary Fisher became famous and Trek started building mountain style bicycles for adults, or overgrown kids. By then, the BMX industry was in its down swing and hybrid style cross-overs designs began popping up all over the bike world. We saw a huge expansion in suspension and aerodynamics in bikes as grown up nerds turned engineers began tinkering in their garages with all their new found wealth and spare time.
I’d moved on as well and was pretty much grown up too. After my second summer of processing salmon in a cannery located in Ketchikan, AK, I was a chewing tabacco and cigarette smoking machine, and a far cry from my old 115 lb soccer freak self in junior high. I had a DUI and a possession of marijuana charge under my belt, and my waist line bigger than the length of your average King salmon. Thankfully, most of my earnings was in a savings account back home, but with my final $1000 I had purchased a Haro mountain bike with platform pedals and nobby tires. $500 for the bike, $50 for a pair of used pannier saddle bags, and a $164 ferry ride to the Lower 48 left me with $300 to my name. So I decided that I would head south on my new ride and bike from Bellingham, WA, to San Fransisco, CA. I had three goals I hoped to accomplish. The first was to see my sister, mom, and step dad for a visit. The second was to quit smoking and chewing tobacco and the third was to go see the Jerry Garcia Band in concert!!
That year the NW had a beautiful Indian summer fall and after one month of riding and visiting a friend in Ashland, OR, I completed the ride and arrived in the Bay Area without seeing a drop of rain. I met my sister after she got off work and as she drove us home, she offered me a Marlboro light and I conceded. It had been a long ride and I thought I’d regress, but for a moment. After one inhalation, I gagged and disgustingly flicked the gross stick out the window, much to the surprise and chagrin of my sister. I was done smoking. Over the course of the ride I had depleted all but fifty bucks of my reserved funds. With the rest of the money, I purchased two tickets to see Jerry at his last concert in the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium in Oakland, CA. Tah-dat!! All three goals accomplished.
Since then, commuting to work by bicycle is pretty much standard morning and evening procedure. Sure, the wife and kids came along and we had to purchase more than one vehicle, and of course, the bikes got neglected, but the years passed and the kids aren’t really that small anymore and the commuter has blessed this aging adult with a new found vibrance to the menial humdrum of daily life.
The recreational and transportational past time is always moving forward, but remaining the same. Biking never goes out of style. Fads and fashions pass but bikes just seem to keep rolling along with them. Bikes afford owners the right to dream. Ideas seem to fall out of the sky and onto the brain. Think about where we are at today!! Who knew that fatbiking would be the future for all forms of riding, right? I still haven’t fully bought in to fatbiking, but its here to stay and on the boom!
Where will you go? Where will biking take you? Who knows, but the bike changes will change you. My 13 year old son and I are going to take a ride in 2016. The plan is to ride a tandem across the country. The ride will forever change us. We will never be the same, but bicycling will remain in itself, unchanged. When the ride ends, wherever it that is, the question remains. “What do you want to do with your life?” My answer will still be the same.
I WANNA RIDE!!! RIDE!!! (rock-n-roll) I WANT TO RIDE!!!