The Spoke November 4, 2012

Tales of the early 80s: Fold-Up Bikes and Middle Schools

Here's a story about a childhood cycling 'spectre' also known as my fold-up bike. There are some things that happen to you that haunt you for ever and my fold-up bike is one of them. It also indicates that I should trade some of my friends in, as even now the whole 'Jonny's Fold-Up bike story' gets wheeled out every so often in the pub. Indeed, it's so well rehearsed even people who didn't know me then, know the story now, embellishing it as they see fit. Like I said, I probably need new friends. 

Some background first.

I'm not sure how old I was when I got my first bike. I remember it had a blue frame with yellow mudguards, a front brake and solid rubber tyres. Thinking about it now, that's pretty weird. I don't recall ever seeing a bike with solid tyres these days. Maybe it was a function of late 70s childrens bike technology? This was followed by another blue bike (all over this time) which had pneumatic tyres plus a rear brake. That bike was great and I used to bomb around the access road at the back of our house which was kids-level fun. I had that bike for a while, until I would say I was 7. 

What I'm about to say sounds incredibly ungrateful and it's not intended to be, but here goes. Up until this point my bikes had been second hand at the very least. Didn't matter to me, it had no affect on either my enjoyment or freedom. However on my 8th birthday my parents said I could go and choose a new bike. A brand new bike. Maybe one with gears? A blue one? What could be more exciting? Probably, nothing. At the time, the was a Halfords in Western Road in Brighton, near a load of other shops that also aren't there any more. I'm sure the premises is a Sainsbury's local store now. Anyway, we trooped down to Halfords and I sat on a few bikes.....

I had never sat on a race bike before, let alone a bike with a cross bar. I was a bit unsure of it and my parents were concerned it was either to big for me or I wouldn't be comfortable on it. Beside it was a 'sit up and beg' Halfords fold-up bike. A shopping bike, with 20'' wheels. It was bacially a Halfords rip off of a Raleigh R20. However, it was metallic blue (big plus point) and had a 3 speed Sturmey Archer hub gear. This was also pretty exciting. I sat on it, was asked my opinion and naturally said I liked it. Happy Birthday! The bike was mine! We took it home and I was told never to undo the mechanism in the middle that allowed the bike to fold. Ok, that was clear. And off I went. What happened next was a lesson in how to loose what credibility I might have had. Riding a fold up bike to school was not a good idea. I was really happy with my new bike, but my peers had other ideas. I was mercilessly taken the piss out of. Good for going round corners Jonny? Girls bike Jonny? Is that your Mums bike Jonny? And so on. Great. How did this happen? I had gotten new bike and simultaneously become the laughing stock of the school. 

I rode it regardless, but some of the fun had been taken away. Whenever I went to the local park I would hear some derogatory comment about it. Ironically I can't really recall any time we did actually fold it up and take it anywhere. I used to enjoy riding it around the village where I lived, and having a bike with gears still felt special to me. 

Even now, the mention of a fold up bike makes a warning light go off in my head. I'm travelling to Hamburg on a regular basis at the moment and I thought to myself a fold up bike, stored at the hotel, would be a good way of getting about. But then I would have to buy a fold up bike and that's just not going to happen. There's another debate occurring at work about offering people who need to use public transport the option of a fold up bike to aid them with their journey. It's a good idea, especially if its a choice between that and walking to work in the rain. But it's still a fold-up bike. The bottom line is that these bikes are a perfectly good solution to commuting challenges - it's just my heart of hearts I know I would never want one to use one. Silly, really.

With the benefit of hindsight, my Middle School years were not happy times for me. For one reason and another I was bullied, I brought this partly on myself and partly because I was an easy target for others. I am sure it was a relief for some kids to bully me because it meant they were kept out of the firing line. I was a bit different and still am. I wonder how much of that experience has formed the person I am today? Anyhow, suffice to say I was not a very cool kid at school. I got a better at handling myself and when I transitioned from Middle to Secondary school and I sought a different friendship group. Streamed classes, a mixture of kids from other schools and some different outlets (especially sports) helped to make my life at this school much better. 

Switching schools also meant I said goodbye to the fold-up bike. My neighbour, who was then a fifth year, wanted to sell his Rayleigh Arena. It was equiped with a 5 speed derailleur and I absolutely wanted it. Paul (the fifth year) was selling it because he wanted to buy a leather jacket. I think it cost £25. Actually, I didn't even have to ask for it. My Dad just said to me one day, go and have a look in the garage and there it was, waiting for me. It beckoned me over and that was it. I was now a very proud owner of a race bike. 

Yes; it was blue. 

Yes; it was second hand. 

Yes; it had a few scratches on it. 

But; I truly loved that bike. 


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