To start with

Technically, my first bike was some nondescript bike that I first managed to ride without falling off. My reward for completing a full length of the road with putting my feet down or crashing was 6d (about 2.5p in new money), enough for a bag of chips from the chip shop and still have change, but having no further recollections of such a steed, my [First Bike] was therefore my Raleigh/Hercules (my memory is misty), complete with 3-speed sturmey archer gears chrome rims and full leather saddlebag. I rode it to and from school, day in and day out.I even got knocked off by a couple of motorists, though in those days, the motorists were horrified by what they had done and would do all they could to make sure you were ok. By the second summer however, it was time to upgrade my bike so I bought some cow horn handlebars, removed the saddlebag and mudguards and went off-roading into a place known locally as Anmore Dell which was about 100 yards in diameter and 50 to 75 feet deep. This was a great big hollow which was slowly being filled in by lorries but in the meantime made a great playground offering as it did, cycle paths down through the shrubs and trees into a great wide expanse of ups and downs, ideal for my new off-roader.

The ‘hollow’ offered more than a place to ride bikes mind you. Being half filled with water most of the time, it was also a great place to play ‘war at sea’. Using a couple of old car roofs, we never knew how they came to be there, we would upturn them and use them as rafts to out manoeuvre one another until tired of paddling with sticks and bars we would once more return to shore. As our war games became more ambitious however, so did the dangers, culminating when one of my friends showed off his sugar bomb that he’d made (we’d been shown how to make them earlier at school, but I’m not about to divulge such information again) and decided to let it off. One flash, one loud bang, one cloud of smoke, one big fire, which took us what seemed an eternity to put out, and we were one happy bunch. With that, we returned to our bikes and spurred on by adrenalin of the ‘bomb’ we started creating ramps to jump our bikes over. First jump, no more than a foot high, I came tearing down the hill, hit the ramp, soared into the air and landed on my front wheel just before coming off and rolling into the water. I was wet but I would dry, I was dirty but I would clean up (a nice puddle and sandpaper always saw to that) before going home but the bike was not so good. The forks had bent back making the bike impossible to ride: The wheel had buckled making the bike impossible to ride: The handlebars were bent in all directions making the bike impossible to ride. But, ride it I did, the full half mile back home where I just knew I was in for a ‘not very nice time’, which did turn out to be the case.

Come to think of it, I got a thick ear then. Why is it that I’m always getting thick ears. No wonder one of them is a bit cauliflower like.

I remember sulking (believe me, this old Podge can still sulk for England) for weeks after that day not only because I’d been chastised by my father for trying to use my Hercules Push Bike to simulate the great jumps over ramps that I’d seen Dad doing so many times before, albeit on a motorbike – I should point out that he was part of the Royal Marines Motorcycle Display Team and was a regular motorcycle trials competitor – but also because the bike had been thrown away and not replaced. I now walked to school, day-in, day-out, a distance of about 3-miles each way.

Actually, it was only a couple of weeks as my Dad had taken it to his barracks where it was made good once more. But it was never the same bike again though it still took me to school and back and it did take me and my paper bag round on my paper rounds, 2 every morning and 2 every evening. Eventually though, the bike caved in and once more, I was relegated to walking and winter was approaching!

Christmas 1967

It was a cold Christmas Day with a very heavy frost outside, my Father (I was 14 by now) told me to come with him in the car to Uncle Bills though he didn’t actually say why. Uncle Bill lived about 8-miles away so the journey did’t take too long and were soon inside with Uncle Bill and Aunty June having a nice hot cup of chocolate and mince pies. I was then taken out into the garage and there before me was a beautiful Falcon Black Diamond Racing Bike, and yes, you guessed, it was all mine. There was however a catch. I had to ride it home. Now I had come, and had been allowed to come, dressed for a car ride with just a shirt and jumper as defence against the cold. I certainly didn’t have any gloves but I didn’t care. I had my new bike with drop handlebars, butterfly wheel nuts and a double clanger which gave me 10 gears. With absolute glee, I hugged Dad and Uncle Bill, said my goodbyes and set off on the 8-mile ride back home. I have no idea how long it took I just know that most of the ride was a blur, initially with excitement but soon replaced with bitter coldness and fingers that were so painful it was difficult to change gear or even brake. But, eventually I got home, close to tears with pain and with joy. Dad of course was home already and thought it was all very funny. I didn’t care how funny it was: I didn’t care how cold I was: I didn’t care that my fingers were almost dropping off: I didn’t care that snot and tears had frozen around my face. All I cared about was my new bike. This bike was NOT going to have cow horn handlebars and it certainly wasn’t going to go jumping. No, this bike was for serious riding – I was going to be the new Eddy Merckx.

I rode my bike everywhere; I rode my bike all the time; I became a regular sight around my local village doing my lap after lap trying to get faster and faster: at one point even the local policeman would ride next to me on his motorbike, telling me how fast I was going. Then my need for adventure grew once more but this time, my adventures were, not how high could I jump but how far could I cycle in a day, and how quick. Denmead to Arundel was a cracking route and a flat route. Denmead to Heathrow was another good route but very, very hilly and we never did reach Heathrow anyway.  My favourite route was Denmead to Alresford where another uncle and aunty of mine was the river keeper and house keeper for a Colonel who ‘owned’ a stretch of the River Alre: That was a hilly route as well.

And so, with the Falcon Black Diamond, my love affair with cycles and long distance cycling was born. And yes, I did like cycling up hills. I hated cycling up hills, just as much as I do today, but I still love cycling up hills: Only a cyclist would understand.

And now, I yearn for just one more ride. 😦

PS: The Falcon was eventually stolen by a [trusted] ‘friend’ while I was working at holiday camp.

PPS: I never became the new Eddy Merckx, but on this day the 20th July, Eddy wine his first Tour de France and, as it it happens, Armstrong (Not Lance) and Aldrin first landed on the Moon.

PPPS: None of the aforementioned uncles and aunties were actually Uncles & Aunties. We just called them so.

PPPPS: No more PS’s 🙂

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