LARRY PENKAVA COLUMN: Men — and boys — and their bicycles

Published 2:41 pm Monday, November 21, 2022

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Why does it seem that the only bicycle riders I see these days are grown men?

Larry Penkava

When I was growing up, about the time of the horseless carriage, boys used bicycles to get around. You wouldn’t catch a man stooping beneath himself enough to pedal a two-wheeler.

Now, it seems, bicycle culture has shifted such that boys prefer to ride to ball practice with their soccer moms. Meanwhile, you see men dressed in their tight-fitting outfits and helmets, spinning their wheels to beat the band.

Whereas bikes were once used to get boys to a sporting event, to a friend’s house or to the lake, their grown counterparts today really have no destination in mind. If anything, they ride to beat a number on a watch.

This is not meant as criticism. A good friend of mine recently competed in an amateur race with 16,000 others on a 105-mile section of the Tour de France. His reward? Time spent with his wife enjoying the sights of Paris on Bastille Day.

I can’t really be critical of cyclists (I was once told that bikers are the guys who use engines to propel them while cyclists produce their own energy). After all, I regularly walk and run long distances when I’m not trying to get anywhere in particular, finally winding up where I started.

I have a theory that boys and girls don’t ride bicycles any more because they’re too busy with their electronic toys. The only electronic device I owned as a boy was a pocket-sized transistor radio that I could play while riding my bike.

When I played youth baseball in the summers, I often rode my bicycle the two miles, one way, to practice. It was mostly downhill to the ballpark, which meant mostly uphill coming back home.

My longest bike ride was when I was about 12 years old. It was a Sunday afternoon and we had finished eating Mama’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes.

I asked my parents if we could go to my aunt and uncles farm, which we often did on Sundays, allowing me to play with my cousin and best bud, Tommy. But Mama and Daddy had other plans that day.

So, Mama said, “Why don’t you ride your bicycle over there?” That sounded like a great idea, one that would have been nixed had it come from my head.

“OK, I will,” I said.

So I went out the back door, grabbed my rusty JC Higgins from against the house and took off down the driveway and onto the road. It was about five miles to the farm, up and down hills, ending up on dirt roads.

Coming down that last hill, my anticipation reached a peak. I could envision the surprise on Tommy’s face when he saw me pedal into the driveway.

But the surprise was on me. I rode into an empty farmyard. The family car was nowhere to be seen and nobody answered my knock on the door.

Undaunted, I took a seat on the wide front porch, assuming that there was a special occasion at church and they were late getting home. I knew they couldn’t be too late because milking time was always at 5 o’clock.

Sure enough, before too long of a wait I saw a cloud of dust in the distance before their Chevy came into view. I jumped up from the porch chair and ran out to greet Tommy, who was as surprised as anyone.

We had a good time playing on the farm, probably made more enjoyable by my having taken responsibility for my own transportation. Then, just before milking time, Tommy got called away to do his chores.

We said our goodbyes and I hopped on my bike for the five-mile ride back home before dark.

Somehow, the ride back seemed longer and more difficult. But I plugged along, marking the familiar spots along the way.

Coming up our driveway as the sun fell low in the western sky, I felt a great sense of satisfaction. For the first time, I had taken myself to the farm to see Tommy.

Mama welcomed me back, probably having talked on the phone to her sister — my aunt — as to my wellbeing.

I went to bed that night but couldn’t find sleep for quite a while. I was proud of my accomplishment, to be sure, and the feat ran through my mind.

But the aching in my leg muscles really kept me awake.

I learned that sometimes pain is good.

Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189,