One of my earliest memories, if probably not entirely accurate, is of riding a bright orange kid’s bike around the driveway of the house we lived in briefly in Connecticut. I have vague recollections of my parents pushing me on the bike, some image fragments of my dad taking the training wheels off the bike (also in the driveway, for some reason), and the hard plastic shell of the helmet my mother strapped to my tiny noggin. I believe this was my first bike, though there may have been a tricycle or two before that, and were I actually to call up my parents and ask about it, they might tell me that in fact it was all very different, but I like my memories how they are, and am happy to ignore any real facts for the time being.
The little orange bike moved with us to St. Louis about a year later, and we got a surprising amount of use out of it, even after all three of the brothers had grown, strictly-speaking, far too big for it. There was a long time, especially during the winters or rainy days, where we should spend entire days in the unfinished side of the basement, which variously served as a “roller hockey rink,” “tennis court,” with shoe-string net, “skate park,” with a few low ramps my dad built out of plywood, a “band room,” workshop, and bean-bag riddled hangout. The little orange bike was ridden by my friends and me, my younger brothers friends and his, and my kid brother, all around the basement during all of these various setups, before I think we finally did something irreparably damaging to it. So that was bike one.
The next bike I remember, though I’m sure there were at least one or two department-store intermediaries, was a beautiful, bright red GT freestyle bike, with shiny silver pegs on both the front and the back. I’d drooled over it on display at the long-gone Sunset Cyclery shop a few minutes’ drive away from home, spent hours flipping through the GT catalogue, just looking at it, and I don’t remember exactly what the deal was – maybe I was had to earn half? Or wait for a birthday? – but I remember glorious one day rolling the bike out of the shop and into the family mini-van.
This all took place as a result of a number of convergent interests that, at the time, ensured both a lot of time playing outside and in the relatively quiet suburban streets and many, many scraped knees, elbows, and hips, which would make me go sheet-white after looking at them (the blood was the problem much more than the pain, at least most of the time), which in turn ruined any ideas my parents may have had about me ever becoming a doctor.
Biking, itself, wasn’t so much a means of transportation, but rather another medium on which my friends and I could try to do “tricks.” I believe it was the Disney channel’s Brink, as well as An Extremely Goofy Movie, coupled with the then-new Tony Hawk Pro Skater game for the n64, and the discovery of the Summer X Games that caused a bright-eyed, under-sized Danny to pester his parents for all sorts of sporting equipment which would come to include a skateboard, inline skates with the “grinding” cut out in the middle, and, of course, the “red bike with pegs.” I would spend months in front of catalogues for bikes, skateboards, and whatever else, saving up what allowance I got or what I could earn from doing odd chores here and there (I was never very good at this, in all fairness), and waiting for the opportune birthday or holiday to bug my parents and try to make deals with them about keeping my room clean or cleaning up after the dog. For their part, my parents were always very supportive of the activities themselves, though I was always, always, required to wear a helmet and, until I got big enough to more comfortably disregard my parents’ instructions, knee, elbow, and wrist pads as well.
Note: this proved good training for later in life as a bike commuter, as all drivers are assholes. Especially those from Illinois driving in downtown St. Louis. I’m looking at you, white Mustang hardtop.
All this incessant research did, however, make the activities as much about the stuff as it was about the actual skateboarding, biking, and skating themselves, at least when it was either cold or raining. I don’t think this was necessarily a bad thing (for example, I now take perhaps too much time doing research and deciding whether or not I actually need something before spending more than twenty bucks on any one item), but it did sort of narrow my focus along marketing lines in terms of what this-thing-was-for, of the specialization of various wheel sizes and bearing types and whatever else.
Unfortunately, there were a few problems with the beautiful red bike. First of all, I was far too small to be able to do any “tricks” on it, if truth were told. Although I’m sure the bike itself was not in fact very heavy, to the skinny-armed, scrawny me, the bike felt monstrous, and I never figured out how to do even a bunny hop. I think, in part, this was due to both not having anyone around to show me, and in part due to my interest in all of these things occurring well before the advent of YouTube. Yes, I know other people were able to teach themselves just fine, but maybe I was too dumb, a little too small, and in any case, I’d found a VHS tape of Tony Hawk showing you how to do a few basic skateboard tricks, and thereafter spent most of my time trying to learn those.
Although I’d still ride it every now and again, the bike lived mostly in the garage collecting dust, and I think at some point we sold it, hopefully to some kid who got more use out of the thing. It really was a pretty thing, though.
Then there was a gap of about ten years, where I rode a bike only maybe eight or nine times total.
A part of it was learning to drive, I’m sure, and a part of it was moving away from the neighborhood I grew up in. A part of it was that I spent less time outside and more time inside trying to learn how to play the guitar to impress girls, and in part of it was that I didn’t have a bike that fit me, and I never had enough spare coin for one, or rather, what extra cash I did have, especially in college, simply went to other things. Oh, and in college, Miami was just a terrifying place in which to try and learn to ride a bicycle again anyway, especially if you were looking to commute.
I found myself back in St. Louis after undergrad, and then eventually (after a generous rent-free stay at my parents’ house) in South St. Louis, which was all of five miles away from my workplace. I don’t remember what exactly – aside from the undoubtable influence of my friend Jonathan, and my somewhat hippish leanings towards wishing I didn’t need a car – led me to the decision, but as spring rounded the corner I decided I was going to buy a bike. Oh, and one of my bartender friends gave me a good tip on a shop, and I went to check it out, because I was still trying to get him to like me at the time.
This time, however, I didn’t know what the hell I wanted, had no idea what I was looking for, and had done very, very little research. All I knew was that I wanted a bike, and something on which I could ride to work. I had some minimal instructions from Jonathan: drop bars, road bike, not a single speed (he would later reverse this latter position, but I’m glad this was the advice he gave me), but beyond that, I was relatively, and perhaps even purposefully clueless. The driving factor, of course, was my budget: only planning on dipping my feet in, I decided to get whatever I could for say, under $250. The bike shop Nick, the bartender, recommended I look into (Spoked, on Cherokee St.), was a bit too pricey for what I was looking for, at least so far as what they had in-stock and used, but they were nice enough to point me to Bike Works after I told them my budget.
Sidenote: While I still have yet to purchase a bike from Spoked (and, to be real, at this point I probably never will, unless I move back to St. Louis before I get the one-more-last-bike-I-ever-want-to-have-to-buy), they are awesome, and if you’re ever in St. Louis, you should check them out. They’ve trued wheels for me, let me come in five minutes before closing and help me figure out a street-glass-punctured tire situation, and have generally answered all of the many dumb questions I’ve asked while browsing in the neighborhood. Plus, they carry great bikes.
Ah, Bike Works. It’s an organization with a pretty cool mission, and they also have arguably the best deals on used bikes in the city. They did a quick n’ dirty fitting (i.e., “can you stand over the top tube? No? Try this one), and then got me riding around the block. I think I rode two bikes, couldn’t really tell the difference, to be honest, and so asked the guy what, in fact, was the difference, and he pointed to the black one and said, “Well, that’s a nicer bike.” So, more or less, that’s what I took home.
The bike and I had a rough start, in some respects (the aforementioned street-glass-puncture emergency, for example, was the last in a month-long string of flat tires), and though the lack of research would in some ways bite me in the ass down the line (pathetic tire clearance, a relatively harsh, early 90s aluminum frame, etc.), damnit, I fucking rode the thing.
Hot and sweaty to work, but it was brilliant. Riding a bike again simply made everything better. I had liked that job, loved the people there, but still had a fair number of days where I was bored out of my mind. On the days I rode, though, that never seemed to bother me, because going to work meant I got to ride my bike.
Over the course of the summer into fall, I would transition from flats to cages to fancy-clippy-shoes, would find seven or eight different variants and detours along my route (you’ve got to love St. Louis road construction patterns). I found a crew and became good friends with a few other guys in the neighborhood who rode into the city every (okay, most) morning(s).
Work, even if you like your job, sucks. Riding your bike to and from makes it better. At my current position, I can’t reasonably ride in as much as I’d like to (I am in some ways a traveling salesman, who some days needs to travel somewhat far), but I try to every chance I get. And sure, there’s the science about brain chemicals that make you feel good or whatever, but for me, it’s something to look forward to: why get up in the morning? To ride your bike. Why get up when it’s chilly and raining? To look like badass, because you rode your bike. Why make it through the work day? To drink beer at the bar conveniently located at the bottom of your building.
And then to ride your bike.