By David Ward
Looking backwards over my 64 years of life, I see a bicycle weaving in and out of the events, experiences and emotions that have filled that life. It figured prominently in my early years and faded for awhile once I gained a driver’s license. But like a loyal dog, it waited patiently till my affection turned to it once again.
It was a shiny red and cream colored Schwinn Spitfire that first found me on its seat. A Christmas gift from Santa when I was five years old. It was on the seat of that Spitfire that I took my first road trip, a ten mile round trip to the old Indian schools on the Fort Hall reservation. Along with my buddy, Mark, we would pedal there after my Saturday morning work on the family dairy was done. They were old, abandoned schools that had also housed German POWs during WWII. We would roam the old buildings throwing rocks to break out the small shards of glass remaining in the windows and slide down the 3-story fire escape.
It was also on the seat of that bike that I would ride down the gravel hill next to our home, with playing cards clipped by clothesline pins to the chain stays to be beaten into a really raucous noise by the spokes of my wheels. I would come flying down the hill, playing cards humming loudly, then slam my foot backwards to engage the coaster brake and bring the rear wheel fish-tailing around till I came to a stop.
A few years later, I moved on to a larger Schwinn 3-speed. This became my ticket to explore a wider world and the wonders that were not to be found in our small farming community in Tyhee, Idaho. It was also on the seat of this bike that I made my first extended road trip. I rode 15 miles from Tyhee to Blackfoot, where I stopped to visit an old girlfriend before pedaling another 10 miles to Thomas to spend the night with my older sister and her family.
I abandoned that bike for the sweet ride of a 1963 Chevrolet Impala convertible the summer after turning 16 and getting my driver’s license. It was not until four years later, while serving in France as a missionary for my church, that sitting on the seat of my bike, a Peugeot roadster complete with a rear wheel generator to power head- and rear lights, again became my method of transportation. Off and on, for two years, I found myself riding that Peugeot to appointments, meetings, and tracting areas. The purchase of the Peugeot also brought with it a cycling cap with Eddie Merckx’s name emblazoned on it. I had no idea who he was.
Following my return home and subsequent enrollment at BYU, I purchased a bike from a friend that was way too big for me. Thankfully, someone stole it when I forgot to lock it up on campus while attending class. Later, I purchased a sleek, white Motobecane with thin red striping. That was my main ride for nearly the next 15 years, and it was on the seat of that bike that I first raced, riding the cycling leg of a team triathlon.
That was also the bike on which I experimented with changing out components and making improvements, and which was the object of my hands on training when I took a class on bike maintenance and repair from Ed Gunderson at Fishers Cyclery. My Motobecane went through a lot with me as my love of cycling really began to blossom.
I still have that bike, though I have not ridden it for years. It hangs in my basement waiting for the day when I have the time to revitalize it and climb on its seat once again for old times’ sake. I am actually fortunate to have it, as it came precariously close to an unfortunate end.
I had been allowed to take an old Raleigh bike that my wife’s siblings had owned but for years had been sitting in her parents’ garage. I fixed it up and began to ride it periodically. Fortunately for the Motobecane, and unfortunately for the Raleigh, I was on the seat of the latter bike when I had my first run-in with a car, a bizarre incident in which the Raleigh became trapped underneath the car which hit me, and was then stolen by the driver of that car. But that is a story for another day.
Despite that set back, I was hooked. I was using my Motobecane, and the Raleigh until its untimely demise, for transportation, exercise and enjoyment. My love affair with cycling was really blossoming, and I was frequenting Fishers to buy parts and fish for advice.
About this time, I also learned that bike racing existed in the Salt Lake valley. Wow! I thought bike racing was a purely European affair. It was also about this time I began to yearn for a racing bike. Fishers was a dealer for Trek, a fast-growing, American bicycle manufacturer, and I started to enviously eye the marvelous machines my friends at Fishers had on display.
Ultimately, I purchased a Trek 760 with a full Campagnolo Victory gruppo. Yes, I even learned what “gruppo” meant. I was quickly acquiring a large cycling vocabulary. I still remember my first ride on the seat of that bike. It was so light and responsive that it took me a little while to feel comfortable and in control. It was on the seat of my Trek 760 that I entered my first race, the July 4th Lagoon Criterium where I finished in the middle of the field, and knew I had a lot more in the tank. In fact, on the seat of my bike, I came back to win that race two years later.
Encouraged, I began to seek out races and quickly became engulfed in the racing world which dominated my cycling for the next decade. I learned who Greg LeMond was. I learned the great legend Eddie Merckx had become, thereby making my old cycling cap a real treasure. I began to follow professional bike racing like most others followed football. Slowly but surely, cycling permeated my life and my family.
As time passed, professional life, family, church responsibilities and life in general invaded my cycling, and I was weaned from my heavy involvement with racing. But cycling, and my love of being on the seat of my bike, has endured.
And so it is that cycling has woven itself in, out and throughout the fabric of my life. It was on the seat of my bike that I began, as described earlier, to explore first my local world, and eventually much of the wider world. On the seat of my bike I have ridden the roads of many of these United States, including but not limited to Idaho, Oregon, Arizona, Texas, South Dakota, Illinois, Lousiana, and Maine. On the seat of a bike I have experienced France, Spain, Canada, Serbia, Bangladesh, Austria and Nepal.
On the seat of my bike I have had some of my most exhilarating experiences. I have climbed and descended Alpe d’Huez, the Galibier and Mont Ventoux as well as many of the other famous cols from the Tour de France. I have braved and battled the traffic in Dhaka and Kathmandu. On the seat of my bike, I have survived drenching downpours during the STP (Seattle to Portland), which ride I have done on a tandem with each of my five children and my wife.
On the seat of my bike, I have had some of my most profound experiences. I traveled the backroads of Idaho and my memories while pondering my mother’s passing and my father’s remarriage. I anguished over the loss of employment and then found solace and comfort as I prayed. On the seat of my bike, I cried over a poor decision by a loved one which led to much pain and anguish. On the seat of that same bike, I have pondered how that loved one has pulled through that to move on to bless my life and the lives of others.
On the seat of my bike, I have maintained good health, both mental and emotional. Indeed, in times of grumpiness, irritability and stress, my wife has sent me out on the seat of my bike to seek emotional refreshment and mental adjustment.
I can no longer keep up with others while climbing a mountain pass. Hell, I can’t even keep up with others my own age and older. But it doesn’t matter. I go at my pace, and I reach the top not too long after, and glad I can still make it.
On the seat of my bike, I have learned that about life. I may not keep up, but I can go at my pace, and I can reach my destination. I am hopeful my road through life will continue for many years to come, and that my bike will be a part of my travels on that road. On the seat of my bike, I hope for many more unique, exhilarating and profound experiences.