When was the last time you rode a bicycle?
As a kid growing up in Massapequa, a day didn’t go by without jumping on my banana seat Schwinn and riding somewhere. It seemed as if my baseball glove, hanging over the handlebars, was standard equipment. Most of my friends had the same mode of transportation, some with “sissy” bars and those that didn’t have one jumped on with someone and doubled up.
We’d put baseball cards (doubles, of course!) into the wheel spokes to clack like a motorcycle. Racing down the side streets at full speed, you hit the brakes hard by backpedaling and be judged on the length of your skid marks. You can’t do that with today’s bikes.
With the recent lack of physical activity befallen most of us, bicycle riding has made a comeback for us older folks. While porch sitting with Louie the Labrador, I’m amazed at the number of retirement-aged folks cruising the neighborhood. I bought a modest 7-speed bicycle a few years ago that has been collecting dust in my shed and decided it was time to give the old girl a spin.
Keeping one eye out for cave crickets, I wrestled it from the depths and brought it out into the daylight. It was in reasonably good shape, considering how long it has been sitting idle. The white frame was covered in a light grey film, and the chrome had plenty of oxidation on it. I guess Neil Young was right, rust never sleeps. As expected, the tires had no air, and the chain was slightly off the sprocket.
I grabbed my trusty air pump, filled the tires, and gave the frame a quick once-over. With my previously suppressed bicycle maintenance skills returning like a long-lost friend, I turned the bike over and reattached the chain. After spinning the wheels to make sure they weren’t wobbling, I tightened the seat and was ready to go.
As a kid, I never hesitated to use our steep driveway as a launching pad, hitting Park Lane at a high rate of speed. However, out of an abundance of caution, I walked the bike down the driveway before mounting it and slowly making my way past Michael Bagnato’s old house across the street. After all, I did just take advantage of using my “senior” status to score a free TOBAY Parking permit.
I do have some recent riding experience under my belt. Last September, my wife and I spent a few days on Chincoteague Island in Virginia, renting bikes for a few days. We did a lot of two-wheel cruising.
Taking my “new” Schwinn for a spin around the side streets, I felt like my old 12-year-old self. I cruised past the homes of my old friends, Patrick O’Neill, John Kless and Keith Boyce, as the memories of warm summer nights came flooding back. I tested the response of the front brakes, then the back ones. Riding past the old house of Richie and Vinnie Melo, I tentatively adjusted the gears, listening for the successful clicking sounds. As the chains effortlessly slipped from one gear to another, I finally settled on “3” for the ride around the block where my cousin Sal lived with my aunt and uncle.
The wind blew through my way too long hair, just like the old days. I was getting fresh air and exercising for the first time since Chincoteague. Soon, I was thinking about all those people I’ve seen riding along Wantagh Parkway to Jones Beach and wanted to be one of them. It’s just five or six miles, how hard could it be?
I was only four or five blocks into my nostalgic journey when I started to feel aches in my legs. The lack of physical activity during this pandemic was catching up to me rapidly. Without realizing it, my cruising speed was slowing down from a sweet, gentle ride into a pace that could only be described as “just enough to keep from falling over.”
It looks like I may have to take baby steps with this bicycle thing.
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.