The 1965 Schwinn Stingray. And it was mine. I couldn’t ride it yet, but it was only a matter of time. I did have some training wheels, but they seemed to send me off in all the wrong directions.
One Saturday morning, my dad decided it was time for me to learn how to ride it for reals. This was probably the result of my incessant begging, but I have somehow chosen to forget that part of the story. I do, however, remember the big day…
But before I tell you the story, let me tell you a little about the bike. Stingray bicycles were only a few years old, and they were very, very cool. However, that cool factor was decimated by the existence of training wheels. Mine was blue, and had a “banana seat.” Why banana? Look at it. Now you may scoff at the banana seat, but it did have some advantages. Lots of room for you, and lots of room if you needed to give someone else a ride. But those concerns, like the heightened “Sissy Bar” accessory, or the fluorescent orange flag, would only come into play after learning how to ride it.
That’s where the banana seat came in handy. The metal loop at the back of the seat was the perfect handhold for the instructor to steady the bike, as the student wobbled down the road.
(Side note: I taught most of the FOMLs to ride BMX type bikes that had no such convenient handhold. However, I was able to teach them without needing one, since I would usually take them to the top of a nice grassy slope, wish them luck, and give them a gentle push. Worked like a charm.)
My training ground was a flat sidewalk, with lawns and bushes on one side, and grass parkways on the other. There were about five front yards to pass before the street turned downhill. This is where I would master the Stingray.
After removing the shameful training wheels, it was time to learn. Dad held onto the loop on the seat and jogged behind me as I tried to balance and pedal at the same time. It was slow going. We went the distance of the course, and then turned around and went back.
A couple of times I realized that my dad let go of the bike and was merely watching me pedal. This awareness, of course, caused me to instantly crash. We made a few runs, and he would try and trick me, but he couldn’t fool me. I could tell when he let go, and would immediately panic and fall over.
Then something different happened. My dad was running behind me, and for some unknown reason, I veered to the left, and, amazingly, recovered. This quick adjustment caused my dad to stumble and fall into an evergreen shrubbery next to the sidewalk. I could tell he let go, and I glanced back.
I caught a brief glimpse of him lying there in the bushes, and I prepared to crash – but… I didn’t. And to this day, I clearly remember Dad yelling encouragement from the bushes:
“Keep pedaling! Just keep pedaling!”
And I did.
And I still do.
— I miss you Dad.