Saturday, May 14, 2011


One day, when I was 15, I was riding my Suzuki TS-100 at The Trails.  I was hitting the jumps, and cutting doughnuts...practicing wheelies, etc.  It was one of those "nothing much to do" days, and I was just dinking around for fun.

Eventually, three kids I vaguely recognized, from school, came riding up on their bikes.  They were all on StingRay-style bikes, and they were doing the same things on them that I was doing on the motorbike.

There was one jump, at The Trails, that was about 5 feet high at its crest, and fairly steep-sided.  I had just jumped over it, when the three kids rode up.  I killed the motor and gabbed with them, a bit.  One of them asked me how far I could jump, over that particular dirt ramp.

I told him that I wasn't sure, but that there was one good way to find out.  I started the motor, rode up the trail to where it intersected the next track, then turned around and gunned it toward the jump. 

I hit the jump at a good clip, and flew pretty high into the air.  As I said, the jump had fairly steep sides, so it was more of a "big air" ramp than a distance ramp.  I landed with the rear wheel about 15 feet past the bottom of the ramp, and slid to a halt.

We marked my landing by laying a stick on the trail.  Then, the three cyclists went up the trail to see if they could beat my distance.  I stayed on the side of the trail, sitting on my Suzuki, as the judge in the distance contest.

The first kid hit the ramp a little tentatively, and didn't really even get off the ground.  This caused much hilarity among his friends.

The second rider hit the jump with a little more authority, and flew past the run-out of the jump.  But, he was still well short of my mark.

The third kid was riding an old Huffy, or RoadMaster, or some such cheaper bike which had been painted yellow with brushed-on house paint.  I recognized him as being one of the kids from the government-subsidized housing project which lay on the other side of The Trails from my neighborhood.  He was a nice enough kid, but always seemed painfully shy.  In fact, until this day, I don't think I had ever even heard him speak.

He seemed determined to beat his friends' distances, whether or not he could beat my engine-assisted jump.  He took off, pedaling frantically, as he tried to gain as much speed as possible.  He hit the jump, got airborne, and flew almost as high as I had on my motorcycle.

That motorcycle, a 1974 TS-100 had about four inches of suspension travel, front and rear.  While that sounds ridiculously short, even compared to full-suspension mountain bikes, today, it was four inches more than the shy kid's old bike had.

He landed hard on the rear wheel.  We heard a snap, and the kid lost his grip on the bars and he and the bike tumbled down the trail.  I was afraid that he was hurt, but he jumped right up and ran to his bike.

"Oh, man!  Oh, Man!  My dad's gonna kill me!!!!"

The snap we had heard was the non-drive side chainstay on his bike.  It had broken, just in front of the dropout (where they always break, it seems).  The shy kid was almost crying.

"Well, hey man, it's an old bike.  I'm sure he'll understand,"  I offered up.

"Ohnoohnoohnoohno...," he kept repeating.

Finally, the three bike riders headed home.  Two of them rode slowly, as the shy kid pushed his broken bike.

I headed home, too.  I didn't think too much about it, except as an amusing story.

It was years later that it occurred to me just how serious that had been to the shy kid.  He was riding an old, brush-painted bike because that was all he had.  More than likely, the bike had been through a number of older siblings, before he had gotten it.  His family wasn't going to take him down to Weatern Auto and buy him a new bike.

He probably just had to do without.

It never even occurred to me that some people had it worse than I did, and that I was so lucky to have all the toys I had.  Once it did, I was pretty ashamed of myself.

That is one major reason why I have built and given away a number of bikes through the years, to kids who just couldn't afford a new ride.  I've sold many bikes for less than what it cost me to build them, because the people buying them just didn't have that much money.

I try to redeem myself, but I still feel ashamed that I was so indifferent to the plight of the shy kid.


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