Playing little league baseball & riding my Western Auto Sonic Flyer bicycle

Timothy Orton – Spokane, WA

It was the summer of 1966 when my twin and I received matching bicycles for our tenth birthday. Even though it seemed so many years ago, there are two things that standout above all else that summer: playing little league baseball and riding my Western Auto Sonic Flyer bicycle. It was a red beauty with 26? white wall tires and chrome fenders mounted front and back. Best of all it had a built in dual battery operated headlight.

We lived in a rural agricultural part of western New York at that time and fortunately I had plenty of space to learn to ride. The bike seemed enormous as I recall trying to master riding it around our huge front yard. I must admit that learning to ride was not so simple. Until then I had no experience riding a bicycle and the concept of steering, pedaling, and balancing all at once seemed quite daunting. In retrospect, learning to ride was much like the first aviators trying to get their flying machines in the air. It was a frustrating process with all too predictable results. For the first two weeks, like the first aviators, I too unsurprisingly got my Western Auto Sonic Flyer up and going only to be defeated by the law of gravity. My humiliation was compounded by the fact that my brother took to riding so effortlessly.

To illustrate the depth of my incompetence, I will share one of my many attempts to master the skill of riding a bicycle. In my then ten year old sized brain I theorized that if I could, like the early aviators, get enough speed and momentum I could simply hop on the bike and begin pedaling and steering and be on my way. There were two critical flaws in my theory, however. The first, and possibly the most obvious, was pushing a 40 pound bike over thick grass fast enough to get enough speed to keep my momentum while I clumsily tried to hurl my right leg over the bike and get my flailing legs and feet onto the pedals was problematic. Second, I had not learned to balance, which is critical to keeping both tires from facing skyward. Despite my many foiled attempts, I was determined to stay on for more than 5 seconds. Of my attempts to remain upright, one remains indelibly etched in my brain nearly a half century later. In a seemingly impossible maneuver, I found a way to overcome the impossible. Like all my previous attempts, I stood on the left side of my bike, hands firmly attached to the grips, visually playing out the routine in my head as I gathered enough courage to make my run. In my head I barked out, ???Ready, set, go!??? Off I went pushing my bike like a plane trying to get enough speed to lift off the ground. As I had done so many times before, I got going as fast as I could and then leaped over the bike with my right leg while my hands were firmly attached to the handlebar grips.  This time I managed to get my flailing legs and feet firmly resting on the pedals while still moving forward. My arms were moving the handlebars right to left and back again, while my hands maintained a death grip on the bars as I attempted to keep the bike moving forward and the tires on the ground. I began to turn the pedals forward and for the first time I thought I could actually get some riding time in (longer than 5 seconds). Once I thought I was in somewhat reasonable control I looked up and realized I was slowly and awkwardly headed straight for a tree. Of course being the neophyte cyclist that I was, my eyes became transfixed onto the tree and with foreseeable results I navigated the bicycle right smack into it. Of course, if I left it at that one might perhaps think it was a sizable tree and throw me a sympathy bone. I wish that were the case, but it wasn’t. Why this event remains miserably chiseled on my brain like some annoying advertising jingle, is that as a ten old I could have easily taken my index finger and thumb and comfortably placed it around the circumference of the tree surpassing both ends.

Despite one of my most embarrassing and defeating moments as a child, I continued to persevere. It was not long after that day though that I hopped on my Western Auto Sonic Flyer and began to balance, steer, and pedal around the yard. In time I was riding around the countryside exploring areas I saw only from the back seat of my dad’s Aqua colored 1962 Mercury Meteor. Never before had I experienced such freedom as I did that summer. Nearly fifty years later I fondly remember that summer so long ago as a ten-year old boy as I pedal my Pinarello Dogma down a country road.

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