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let us now praise department store bikes

When I was a kid, all my bicycles came from department stores. The bikes were heavy and cheap and built to withstand the abuse of an average American child. My favorite bike during those early years was a Huffy BMX-styled bike, like the one shown here (only mine was black with pink trim, not all-pink like this one):

I rode a bike like this on the dirt trails behind our Concord, California apartment building; and removed the chainguard and metal fenders to lighten the bike. Eventually I found some plastic BMX fenders and got a neighbor boy to help me put them on.

When my I and my sister were eleven and twelve years old, respectively, we had outgrown our current bikes. We asked our parents for new, larger bikes for Chanukah that year. I got a green ladies' 3-speed, my first adult-sized bike with 26" wheels. My sister, being 5' 10" in seventh grade, got a white mens' 10-speed with drop bars and black vinyl bar tape. I liked her bike better because it had more speeds and looked faster; but my bike was more practical because it could take a front basket.

Here's a Huffy, pretty much the same vintage and style as my Penney bike:

I saved up for a basket from my allowance and had it put on in the spring. I rode my three-speed to and from school every day with my books in the basket, and my band folder, practice pad and drumsticks in a canvas backpack on my back. On the weekends I could be found exploring the dirt moguls behind our apartment building and riding to construction sites to fool around with leftover tools and things. Both bikes had come from JC Penney, my parents' first choice for such things because it close by and they always had a good variety of bikes on hand.

Fast forward five years. We were living in Gresham, Oregon. By now my three-speed had been virtually destroyed, thrashed by a girl who wished she'd had a BMX bike instead (but who'd grown too tall to be confortable on one). My father sold the bike to a neighbor, who fixed it up with a single-speed coaster wheel for his wife.

I inherited my sisters' ten speed, which languished in the garage after she'd gotten her learner's permit. I had absolutely NO interest in driving and was perfectly happy to ride a bike everywhere; plus, I was finally just tall enough to fit her old bike. I rode it to death all over east Multnomah County, from my freshman year through most of my senior year. When the movie "Breaking Away" came out my sophomore year, my friends and I saw it, then went home and scraped up the money to outfit our bikes with real cloth handlebar tape, toeclips and leather straps, and a water bottle and cage. I got an advance on my allowance and also sprang for a cotton cap with the shop's logo on it, and wore it on my weekend rides out in the country. by now my bike rides on the weekends were taking me out to Sandy and Boring, to roadside produce stands and acres of strawberry farms, and I could easily ride ten to fifteen miles at a go without tiring.

I recently found a photo of a virtual copy of that old ten speed on the internet. The only difference is that my bike was white, and had a plastic saddle instead of a leather one:

Today, I wouldn't be caught dead on a typical department store bike. But this is how most of us avid cyclistas (of a certain age, anyway) got started on two wheels, and now when I see one I can't help but smile.


Cyclists can be pretty elitist about their bikes, but you have a good point about a kid getting hooked on biking regardless of the quality of the bike. I'm for whatever gets them off the couch and riding.


A story many of us share

Very good post, and a story many of us share, I think. I use a Dept. Store Bike for commuting, for a number of reasons, but admit I'm a bit of a bike snob otherwise. I've written about your post here:


Steve at Bike of Doom.