AS A kid growing up in Chicago in the 1960s, my bike was my freedom. To hook up with my buddies, to explore far-off neighborhoods that my parents didn’t need to know about, and to just basically be happy. The bike of choice was a BMX with the cool “banana seat,” and the handlebars that made you look like a 10-year-old Hell’s Angel without the tattoos and violent streak.
Then two things happened—girls and drivers’ education at age 15 in high school. Yes, drivers’ education was a required subject and schools even had some cars around for the practice side, outside of the classroom part. Then, the game became beg-dad-for-the-car-to-take-out-Terry. Then the bike was used less and less... lonely in the garage, kind of like Woody in Toy Story.
(Author’s note: Terry, the high school love of my life, ran off with best friend Tim Sweeney when I went off to Basic Training in the US Army. The first shine was barely put on my Army Issue Boots and she was already gone! But let’s leave that for another column.)
So fast-forward 23 years later: It is 1991, I am now 38 years old and I am the managing director of a logistics firm in Makati. It is Thanksgiving and I have been invited to a Chinese-American friend’s place for the feast. If you have ever experienced an American Thanksgiving, you know you can’t stand up afterward; too much stuffing, and turkey breast, and pumpkin pie in the tummy. So Kai (my senior at 48) and I are sitting stuffed on his couch, and after an hour of chit-chat, he gets this bright grin on his face and says, “Hey, wanna ride bikes around the village?” The village, which was Forbes Park.
I said in the most sarcastic voice that I could muster, “Kai, what are we, 12 years old?”
Kai was quiet for about a full minute and then very patiently, with his best Mr.-Miyagi-in-Karate-Kid look said, “No, we aren’t 12 anymore, Jim. But wouldn’t you like to feel like 12 again?”
Hmmm... do you hate it too when smart friends make you feel stupid? But at that moment, a memory flew into my head: Me at 12, the banana seat, biking by Terry’s house for the fourth time to see if she would notice me, etc.
So, Kai and I got the bikes out of the garage. His cool retro road bike for him and his old clunker mountain bike for me. For two hours, we biked in the quiet, tree-lined streets of Forbes Park. Few cars, a nice breeze and I felt... well, 12. Two weeks later, I bought a P10,000 simple bike and we started doing Laguna and Batangas backroads on weekends.
Next year, my adult passion for cycling turns 30 years old. And don’t be surprised about two things if you get invited over to my house on an American Thanksgiving. First is, no turkey nor meat, fowl nor fish of any kind, as I turned vegetarian in 2003—17 years and counting. Second, as we sit there stuffed after one of Mia’s vegetarian meals, I might just mention... “You know I have four bikes down in the garage...”
What about Kai? Well, there is a happy update. After I retired in May of 2016, I went to the States and visited many old friends, mostly by cycling. I found Kai and his wife retired in Boulder, Colorado. Kai at that time was 73 years old and fit as a fiddle. He invited me out on his usual Sunday ride of 70 kilometers out and back into the beautiful hills and stretches of scenic Boulder. This time though, not on an old mountain bike but rather a sleek high-end carbon road bike.
And yes, just like in 1991... at 73 and 63, respectively, we both felt 12 again.