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Ride a bicycle once and you never forget

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By BEN OLSON/for The Herald  —  Anyone who uses the phrase, “easy as riding a bicycle”, probably doesn’t remember their transition from pedestrian to bike rider very well. Most kids ditch the training wheels at about age 5, and are little dare-devils by the time they’re 7 or 8.

My first bike was a Huffy, and not a new one. They’d been making bikes since 1892. It was the model of simplicity- one forward speed, coaster brakes, a wire basket in the front and a rack over the back wheel in case you could convince somebody to ride with you. It spent as much time riding on the grass at the golf course next to our house as it did on pavement, of which there wasn’t much around.

By the time I was 10, the bike was my main form of transportation to and from town, 2 and ½ miles away. To increase my mobility and cut down my commute time, I got a 5 speed Schwinn with skinny tires. The gears helped me negotiate the hills on the road to town. The skinny tires helped me to feel every bump on the lousy asphalt that made up the road. It was not unusual to make 2 or 3 trips to town and back on the long summer days.

Upon turning 16 and getting my driver’s license and a ‘62 Chevy Impala 2 door with twin antennas, I was done with the bike, and I assumed it was forever. The Chevy was underpowered, to say the least. It could beat my Schwinn in a quarter mile race, but not by much, and it required regular visits to the Standard station.

When I was in my 30’s, a small company in southern Wisconsin began producing what were eventually to be called “mountain bikes”. I purchased a Trek 830 model with knobby tires and 21 speeds. As I recall, it cost me close to $500, which is about a million dollars in today’s money. It was fun, though, and it got me riding a bike again. I took it down 2-track roads on state, county and paper company land, which is prevalent throughout the state.

In the fall I would strap my 20 gauge on my back and ride the first mile or two down the gated forest roads to hunt grouse where nobody else got to on foot.  The bike had seen its best days by the time we moved to Florida. My wife sold it, unbeknownst to me, at a yard sale before we left, for $20. I hope the new owner was able to appreciate the treasure that he stumbled upon.

On our little island in Florida, it was flat as a pancake and had very little traffic. I bought an ugly single speed bike at a yard sale for one dollar. The tires held air and the handlebars were permanently pointed up at a weird angle. It was perfect for commuting around the island, where nothing was more than 3 or 4 blocks away.

It never left the island because, in my mind, it was like some kind of a death wish to get out on the highway where people drove in a most scary fashion. Occasionally, a local would ask me, “isn’t that Jimmy Ketchum’s bike?” Apparently it was, at one point. My one dollar bike was eventually stolen.

Now I’m in Oakridge, mountain bike capital of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon or eastern Lane County, depending on who’s PR man you want to believe. I’ve got a bike suitable to travel the trails, but my dog has told me he feels “rushed” when I’m on the bike and he’s on foot. We walk now, and that seems to be best for both of us. Someday when my dog is busy doing something else, I’m going to take my bike down to Eugene and pedal the extensive city trail system.

Ben Olson, musician and Oakridge Resident, with his standup bass. Ben is a regular contributor, as well as the Entertainment Report’s columnist. Ben Olson photo

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