We loved our bicycles. We lived on our bicycles. Everywhere we went we went on bicycles. Schwinn's and Rahleighs. English and American. Big ass old school one speed bikes with fat tires that had one up hill speed...slow and one downhill speed...fast. We put baseball cards on them to make noises as they fluttered in the spokes. We shined the chrome and cleaned them and oiled them and knew how to patch tires and change tubes.
We rode our bikes up and down the streets of Wenonah, to and from school, to the pool and back. We rode them in snow and rain and sun. We rode them in wild packs of boys, carrying fake plastic and wooden rifles prepared for war in the woods of Wenonah. We rode them with complete abandon.
I vividly recall riding down Cherry St. by Terry Fleming's house en route to Clay Hill for a game of guns one beautiful summer afternoon. We were all riding no handed and shooting our imaginary enemies as we rode. Suddenly my front tire blew. Pow! The bike bucked up a foot or two in the air then came down and sent me skidding down newly macadamed Cherry St. In seconds I was covered in scrapes and the scrapes were filled with tar and stone and dirt and blood. A passerby asked if I was okay and of course we all assured him I was. Then we ran home as fast as we could to my house. I burst into the living room where my father and my Uncle Al were drinking glasses of whiskey and stood in front of them. Blood was running down all my extremities and my face. They laughed and laughed and laughed. Then I shrieked and burst into tears. Up to then I hadn't cried at all. I was being a man. But seeing my father and my Uncle laughing at me left me bereft. I cried and cried; they laughed and laughed.
Then my mother got out the Hydrogen Peroxide and the bandaids and went to work. In a few workmanlike minutes I was covered in bandages and smarting from the burn of the peroxide. My friends were yelling outside so out I went. We had a game to play.
We played one terrible game called the Bike Game. In this game Stewart DeHart and Bobby McQuaide and maybe Jackie Brangan would ride their bikes back and forth in Lincoln Ave in front of the DeHart residence. We huddled in the grass strip between the sidewalk and the street. At their command we ran across the street and they tried to run us down. It was the most terrifying thing I've ever done. No one of us was a winner. We were all mauled and bloody and ridiculed. It was all we could do to get them to stop playing and let us go home.
We organized bike races. Older boys delivered their newspapers on their bikes. All around town bikes were scattered like leaves in front of houses where children lived. We customized our bikes. We loved our bikes.
One day we rode our bikes from Wenonah to Woodbury. Seven miles. Up Mantua Avenue, left on Glassboro Road and all the way into Woodbury. We bought sandwiches and ice cream and sodas and rode back. We were proud little explorers. Then our mothers found out and that was our last bike hike till seventh grade.
In the days before we turned 17 bikes were our only freedom and we loved them. If they were animals they would have loved us back.