My 10-speed Raleigh–Carleton Supercourse was olive green with purple handlebar tape. I bought it the spring I was 15, in preparation for a three-week cycling trip in Maine.
Oh, I was so cool riding my sleek bike, speeding along city streets, leaning into turns at just the right angle. I was never without a screwdriver and adjustable wrench in the black leather pouch that hung behind the seat: I could tighten my brakes, align my wheels, adjust my derailleur. This liberating mode of transportation was so alluring that my two best friends soon followed suit. We rode the streets of Rockaway, NY, together—to one another’s homes, to the movie theater and pizzeria, to the end of the peninsula. We’d stop smartly whenever we saw someone we knew.
After returning from Maine that summer, when there were no longer hills to ascend or 30-mile days to press, I’d cruise the streets of the neighborhood looking for the proverbial action of adolescence. The evenings were the best time to ride—bathed by cool ocean breezes and incandescent lights. Several mornings each week I’d craftily dodge car doors and buses on a 10-mile trip down Flatbush Avenue to my job at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. That first summer I became a veteran bike rider.
The following fall my friends and I made weekend bike trips—once we left Rockaway, rode across Brooklyn and the tip of Manhattan, traveled across New York Bay on the Staten Island Ferry, and ended our voyage at the Staten Island Zoo. Then, in the rain, we rode all the way back again. We were empowered. Gradually, though, new social horizons appeared: at 16, I fell in love. I’d ride five miles down the wooden-plank boardwalk—terrible for my bike’s tires—just to pass his house. Another spring and summer passed. My trusted bike served me well. But then, in the fall, there was a new boyfriend, and he had a car. My bike was often left behind.
Over the years I moved my bike from state to state as I toured the nation via college and graduate school, but the new streets were never quite as inviting as those of Rockaway. Eventually I left the bike in a friend’s shed in North Carolina—there was just no more room in my car. I always planned to go back for it, but I never managed to make that trip.
I still think of my Raleigh–Carton Supercourse, leaning against the wall of the old wood shed, only slightly rusted, forever holding its early promise of self-propelled freedom.