I get obsessed with stuff. I always have. I don’t really like that about myself. I get interested in something and think about it constantly. One day, without warning, it will hit me. Hey, I want to learn how to …
And then it consumes me. I’ll spend years trying to master my obsession until I stop seeing rapid improvement. Then I get bored but keep doing it until something else grabs my attention.
The whole of my adult life has been one obsessive endeavor after another.
Before I was an adult, it was usually not something I wanted to learn but something I had to have. One year it was an LED digital watch. I could not sleep until I had one.
There was also the pocket calculator year and then the GT Coyote II skateboard year. It was pretty easy for my parents to know what to get me each year for Christmas. But extremely difficult for them to patiently listen to me go on about how I wanted whatever it was for the months before I got it.
One year, I got a bicycle for Christmas. My first bike. I was 7. I was not obsessed with getting a bike. It was just a good gift. I had wanted one for a while because I was one of the oldest kids I knew who could not ride a bike.
Since I didn’t yet have rollers, and back in those days it snowed every day of winter, I had to wait until March 21 1972, (the first day for 3 months it did not snow) to start learning to ride my shiny new red bike. This was back in the days when Shim was cruising Dodge St. with Charlie Burton, in his Mustang II picking up chicks
After a few days, of trying to roll down the driveway and stop myself by sliding my shoes on the pavement, I got the balance feel. I still remember how it felt. Too easy. My brain opened with the realization. Just go there, where “there” was not falling to the pavement.
After getting the hang of it, we’d ride all over town. And by all over town, I mean about 2 blocks up the street to the elementary school playground where we’d ride around in circles for hours. Yeah, it was like a crit. Sometimes we’d ride up to Mike’s corner store on 40th and California and get 7 cherry Jolly Rancher candies for 14 cents.
Since the hills were steep, the bike was heavy, and the legs were tender, we employed a special method of hill climbing. Here’s a photo from my first ride on Strava in the Summer of 1972. I got the KOM.
I loved that bike. I rode it for years. I knew that everybody else loved it as much as I did because it was the greatest bestest bike in the whole wide world. And it was red!
When I was out somewhere with it, it never left my sight unless I locked it up. Even then, I always feared exactly what Peewee Herman so beautifully depicted in his classic Big Adventure movie. I knew that there would never be another bike for me. I knew that I’d still be joyfully riding it to this very day.
And then I saw it. This skinny, long haired, guy in torn up jeans. His name was Pino, and he lived across the street from us. He was spinning an orange 10-speed up our hill so fast I couldn't believe it. Pino was wearing no shirt. Pino was also an accomplished guitarist. He could play (and sing) “Heart of gold” wonderfully.
When Pino got on Strava with his fancy orange 10-speed, he smashed my KOM with the following:
But it wasn’t having my PR obliterated. That didn’t bother me. Pino was about 15 or 16 years old. So that was to be expected. No, it was the look and operation of the bike. Much of it seemed unnecessary and dangerous so I knew I had to have one.
First of all, no little kids had bikes like this. Only big kids. If I had a 10-speed bike, I’d be a big kid. End of story. Not really. There’s more continued immediately after this word.
Secondly, 10-speeds had gears. We didn’t know anything about them, so we used to say things like, “You have to pedal as you shift, otherwise you’ll strip the gears.” We didn’t know what that meant or that it was complete nonsense, but we knew it was bad. If we were mad at someone, we’d just give a pull on the shift lever of a resting bike (There was no index or sis shifting) believing we were doing some terrible damage to the bike.
So the gears seemed to be the only meaningful thing that distinguished the 10-speed from the children’s bikes. However, it was the rest that attracted me. I became aware that if something seems dangerous, stupid or unnecessary, it’s more cool. “Welcome young man”, said the culture of cycling.
My kid’s bike had brakes that I was always in contact with. My feet were always on the pedals. The brakes were operated from there. Safe.
The 10-speed brakes were on the handlebars, which may or may not be where your hands were when you needed to slow or stop. Pedaling backwards on one of these was useless. More dangerous, and therefore, more cool.
Pino’s bike had toe clips or “cages” as we called them. Pino strapped his feet onto his pedals. What a horribly bad idea, I thought. You’ll be trapped. You mean you have to loosen the strap to get your foot out? How incredibly scary (cool) is that? I knew I was not brave (cool) enough to ride with my feet strapped in, yet. But someday …
Quick release wheels? Are you kidding me? You mean someone could just walk up and take your wheel off or mess with it and loosen it? How horrible! Cool.
My red bike was becoming a constant source of problems. There was a design flaw with the way the cranks were attached. There was a pin that held one of them in place. I kept breaking it. I was told not to pedal so hard. Um …
Anyway, after about the third time of breaking the crank, I just left it that way and if I wanted to bike somewhere, I had to just pedal with one foot. This same thing happened to me in Colorado years later, but I’ve already talked about that, so. I didn’t really care anyway. I wanted, no needed a 10-speed. I could speak of nothing else. It was the spring of 1975 and there seemed no way I could wait until Christmas to get a 10-speed. I had no money. I had no way to earn money that I knew about. I could make the occasional 5 bucks here or there mowing lawns. I got $.50 cents for allowance each week, so that seemed like it would take forever to build up enough cash to get a 10-speed. Then, like something straight out of a Brady Bunch episode, the luckiest thing in the world happened. The end of the school year carnival and raffle was happening. Grand prize for the raffle was a brand new shiny, hunter green Sears 10-speed bicycle! It looked sort of like this (except it had road tires).
Well – I could sure as hell afford a raffle ticket. In fact, I could afford a lot of raffle tickets. I saved money to buy more raffle tickets. I knew I would win the bike, because it was exactly what I wanted. Green was the new red. It was the most beautiful bike in the whole world.
The only difficult part was waiting until the raffle so I could claim my prize. I actually told people I was pretty sure I was going to win it. I didn’t want them to lose all hope, but they had absolutely no chance of winning the raffle, since I was going to. I had many Brady Bunch episodes to back me up on this.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the day of the carnival and my new bike was at hand. I hung around bored all night, repeatedly asking my teacher if it was time for the raffle yet. Finally, as darkness approached it was raffle time. The last thing to be won was the bike. The whole neighborhood packed into the school gym. I’d known for weeks my name would not be called for any prize before the drawing for the bike, so I didn’t lose hope as I sat there winning nothing. I figured that made it more of a guarantee that the bike was mine. When they announced that it was time to draw for the bike, I told myself to just be calm and wait until after they called my name before I walked up to take possession of my new bike in front of all of the admiring public.
"And the winner for the brand new bike that would be perfect for one particular person in the audience who has been drooling over it for weeks, because ever since he saw Pino’s bike he knew he could not live without it, is … Alan Herrink! An adult with 2 small girls. A man who already has a bike he doesn’t use at all! A man who lives right next door to Freddie! Just to make it that much more cruel. Let’s all give Alan a big hand for winning something he has absolutely no use for. Or if you’d rather, we could point and laugh at the kid who thought he was going to win this very special 10-speed bike and thereby stop riding up his hill on his one pedal bike, like some lurking shark."
“Sorry kid,” Alan told me, as he walked up the aisle to claim my bike, “You can come over and look at it anytime you want. Everybody talks about how much you like to look at this bike.”
So I didn’t get the bike. I went all summer and into the fall with a stupid one pedal one speed, coaster brake bike that I could only stop if I could get the pedal turned around far enough. Well that was dangerous enough to be kind of cool, I guess.
Then – at Christmas time, I got what I always always wanted. A brand new hunter green 10-speed bike from Sears. I guess Alan had given my dad a hell of a deal on it. I would joyfully ride this bike the rest of my life and never ever want a different one. And this time I meant it.