Beginning of a beautiful friendship

They say you never forget your first, and I certainly remember mine. Standing there under the Christmas tree, black tyres, chrome handlebars, "banana" seat, three-speed shifter on the top tube.

I wish I could say it was love at first sight, but in truth we had a rocky start to our relationship.

If memory serves (and please note what the "MA" stands for in Mamil – all of this is refracted by the mists of time) I'd been getting around on various hand-me-down bikes, when not borrowing my older sister's. This was the first one that was a present to me, for me alone.

I wish I could say it was a Raleigh Chopper, the bonkers bike that took the kids' cycling market by storm, but I recall it was some kind of knockoff. It was bigger, for a start – not the first time my bike has been on a different scale.

While the rest of the family were still scooping up the discarded wrapping paper in the loungeroom, I took my new beauty out for a maiden spin in the street.

I didn't like it. Maybe it was the "drop" handlebars. Chopper-style bikes, we are now told, had awful handling, especially if you made the mistake of tilting the handlebars to the rear (later editions were welded solid to prevent this problem). Maybe it was the unfamiliarity of riding a bike that wasn't a "step-through". Most likely it was just the shock of the new.

Anyway, after a few runs to my mate William's house on the corner and back, I came in miserable, grumbling that I preferred my sister's bike. My father, always an excitable character, started fuming that he would be taking it back to the shop for a refund after Boxing Day, and I wouldn't be getting another. Cue more grumbling and wailing.

I got over it, of course, and that bizarre bike soon became my ticket to exploration and adventure. The time William and I found a hump of dirt in a nearby common we could use as a launching pad. The day a neighbourhood dog chased me down the street – it was doing laps around me as I rode, barking like mad, until I hit it amidships with my front wheel and fell off. I told everyone it had leapt at my shoulder and knocked me down, because this sounded a lot more dramatic. Brakes that were so useless in the wet, the bike almost seemed to speed up when you applied them. My fruitless attempts to do a wheelie that was anything more than a quick front-wheel hop or a panicked bail-out before I landed on my back.

Two things have reminded me of my first bike. Recently, I was cycling up Sydney's Parriwi Road near Spit Bridge and saw a bloke up ahead, in street clothes, toiling up the long hill on a BMX bike. His name was Kris, and he told me he cycles from Queenscliff to Milson's Point and back most days every week, as part of his commute – a round trip of some 30 kilometres.


"All that way on a BMX? Have you ever thought of getting something slightly more suited to commuting?" I asked.

"Yeah," he replied, "But I remember when I got my first BMX as a kid – it was the most awesome present I'd ever got."

That excitement had never left him, he explained, and he was still happy to ride a BMX wherever he wanted to go.

And secondly, I was in a bike shop this week, trying to talk myself out of random purchases, and overhearing a conversation between a staffer and a man buying his kid a first "proper" bike for Christmas.

He'd cunningly measured his son's height "to see how tall you're getting", and was earnestly discussing just what bike might best suit his son's needs, and where they might go riding together.

Some little bloke is in for a big surprise this Christmas. I only hope his reaction is more like Kris's was, and less like mine.

Do you have any special memories of childhood bikes or cycling? Are you buying a child a bike for Christmas?

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