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My Bicycle Stories

By James F. Riordan   copyright 2013

My involvement with bicycles started when I could barely stay on top of a small one with training wheels.

Then, a friend around the corner in Arlington,  Virginia where we lived at 5610 N. 16th St. decided he wanted a bigger bike and I got my first second-hand “big-boy” bike called a “Rollfast”.

1956 Rollfast Bike like my first one

1956 Rollfast Bike like my first one

Just the name conjured up images of roaring down hills with my hair sticking straight out in back.

My dad always supported, or at least understood this “need for speed”, my mom, well, not so much.  I got my first “road rashes” with that bike.  If my memory serves me I believe it was about a “twenty-inch” model, which was smaller than the one in the brochure photo on the left.  I rode that bike until I outgrew it.

About that time we moved to 3188 Pollard St., to a new home in Arlington,  near Military road which was a quicker commute for my Dad to his office in downtown Washington, DC.

It was there that my dad bought me my first large bike, a 26″ Shelby. Boy what a beauty, it had an electric light , a horn, really cushy seat, fake “gas tank”  and it just screamed down those hills all around our home. I was king of the neighborhood. I was also the king of road rashes.

Shelby 1953 traveler like mine

Shelby 1953 traveler like mine

I think this would have been about 1954, I was coming back all excited after riding a Go Kart for the first time. This was one of the first Go Karts that I had ever seen and the first time I had discovered the “rapture” of going uphill without pedaling. It had a 5hp Briggs and Stratton and boy could it slide on those slick “bluestone” streets after our rather predictable thunderstorms we used to get nearly every day. They would sneak up on you at about noon every day , pour for a few minutes and then disappear as fast as they arrived.

I was so excited that day I was riding as fast as I could go down Military road and just as I turned right onto Pollard street, my brand new Shelby bike slid right out from under me. As luck would have it our mailman was right at the end of the street and I slid right under his delivery truck. I had bluestone gravel embedded in me from head to toe. Our mailman had mercy on me and carried me to the front door of our home a couple doors away and handed me over to a very hysterical mom and a very calm but concerned and caring dad.

This was my first memorable time of realizing that if I was going to be a “daredevil”, it was going to hurt.  My Dad told me, ” Son, be a man. This is going to hurt but if you are going to be a crazy man then you have to be a brave one as well.” My Dad proceeded to pluck out all the gravel, many pieces so deep he had to pull them out with tweezers, and then go back and put [OUCH] iodine on all of them.

Little did I know that many, many years later I would be telling my son the same thing for exactly the same reason . . .A nice long slide along an asphalt road  with a rocky topping on his first “big boy bike”!  My son and I turned out to have a LOT in common and still do today although we, at least my half of we, have slowed down a bit. Okay, in my case quite a bit after 25 broken bones!

In my 30′s, I was still a rather crazy person on bicycles as well as motorcycles. We moved from Arlington in 1959 to Marin County, CA and then to San Jose., CA. One time, while vactioning in Yosemite, My wife and I were camping in Camp Curry and decided to rent bicycles to ride “the loop” around the valley floor. ( I use the term “bicycles” loosely here, because these babies were worn out, wobbly and I’m sure had not seen any oil for years)   These were days when I used to be able to jump on the seat of a motorcycle and do wheelies standing on the seat, so, to impress my “Girl”, my wife Lynn, who had stopped to take photos of a waterfall, I yelled what has  proven in many cases to be my most painful words to her . . . “Watch this” . .  . .and jumped up on the seat of the rental bike.

Jim Riordan Standing on bicycle seat in Yosemite

Jim Riordan Standing on bicycle seat in Yosemite

Not long after she took this photo I realized “Interesting point number one” , that the pedals just kept on turning with the rear wheel, so jumping back down and trying to land with both feet on the pedals was going to be nearly impossible; and “Interesting point number two“, the road started to steepen dramatically, and make a turn to the right dead ahead, as the wind “whistled through my tee shirt.”

” Interesting point number three” was that this “bicycle” had no hand brakes, only a “coaster” brake and I was coasting really fast by now.

As I built up more speed, the road took a turn to the right and I took a turn for the worst!

Just about the time I had decided I was going to have to chance jumping down and landing with my butt on the seat, I hit the dirt shoulder of the road and ran square into a BIG log that was laying perpendicular to the road and the bike stopped dead while I went flying.  . . Yup, road and shrubbery rashes again. Dang.  But hey, great photo!

When I got up, the front wheel looked a little like a pretzel and both front forks were bent, but with a little . . . wait, make that a lot of , help from my buddies, we were able to bend it back enough to ride it back and “rack it up” with all the other rentals. Still hurts just thinking about it!

A few years later, I decided to start riding again for exercise. I had to give up Motocross due to broken shoulders and wanted to be able to ride SOMETHING!  So I headed down to my local bike shop to buy a new Peugeot ten speed. I began to ride it around our tract in San Jose and could get into top gear on a slight downhill street nearby and get a little wind in my hair. These were the days when helmets were not yet that common.

One day, I was in top gear and pedaling hard when I saw a guy starting to back out of a driveway in a Fiat X-19 sports car, right in front of me.  We made full eye contact and I truly expected him to stop.  He didn’t. The next moment, still looking at me, he backed right out.  In situations like this in racing, I was used to either laying the bike down or jumping up on the seat and letting the bike hit another motorcycle or whatever obstacle had presented itself and then tumbling over the obstacle and with luck, rolling or tumbling away. I immediately jumped up on the seat, like you saw in the Yosemite photo above.

The bike ran into the right rear quarter panel of the X-19, and put a nice dent in the side. I tumbled over the flat trunk and darn near landed on my feet. . . . But not quite. I ended up laying in the road on my back feeling REALLY lucky. Hardly a scratch.

The X19 driver, who turned out to be a nice guy, but perhaps not the brightest bulb on the tree, said, “This is your fault you know”, as he looked down at me.  I said, “No, it was your fault”.   He literally stammered out, “Bu, bu, but you’re only a bicycle and cars have the right of way!”  I told him, “No, actually Bicycles have the right of way.”  Again, he was a nice guy, and he said, “Well, lets call the police.”  I said “Sure , no problem.” so he went in his home and called the PD.

Jim's bicycle after hitting Fiat X-19

Jim’s bicycle after hitting Fiat X-19

When the PD arrived, they informed him it was indeed his fault and so he gave me his Driver’s license and insurance information and apologized profusely.

The next morning I called the insurance adjuster and he told me , “Well, it’s going to take me a few days to come out there”. I told him,”Look, I am not someone who sues people but I want to keep up my exercise routine and my bike was only a few days old, so there is no depreciation here. I have called my bike shop and they have my exact bike in stock and ready to go. So, here is my deal.  We can do this the easy way and you can meet me tomorrow at the shop and buy me my exact same bike, nothing more and nothing less and we part friends or, I will be on my way to the doctor tomorrow because I am awfully sore.”

The adjuster said,  “You can’t threaten me like that.”  I laughed and said , “I just did.” I told him, “Just think about it and call me back. I am asking for nothing for pain and suffering and if an attorney looks at the photo of my bike with the front wheel alongside the chain gear and the top frame member bent at the seat and the steering head, I won’t even have to say ‘ouch’ and they will pay me way more than the price of the bike alone. I do not want anything but what I had”.

He said he would call his boss and get answer. He called me back within half an hour and agreed to meet me at the bike shop in the morning. He was a man of his word and when we left the bike shop with my new bike, he let me keep my bent bike and gave Lynn and I $40 cash to take us out to dinner for being so easy to work with. In those days you could actually buy a nice steak dinner for two for forty bucks.

I  took the bent Peugeot, straightened the front wheel, salvaged the rear wheel, seat and accessories, bought an old Schwinn frame from a friend, mounted a Honda 90 engine in it and called it the “SCHWONDA”  . . It “screamed” . but that’s another story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 
 
 
 
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