My Bicycle and me

My bicycle was part of me. It went everywhere I went. It was not one of these modern 12 speed racing styles, or mountain bikes. It was just a bike. No gears and a foot brake on the pedals. On the hills we stood up on the pedals, and when that became too hard, we got off and walked. Dad usually bought our bikes at auctions and we had to look after them ourselves. We soon learnt how to repair punctures, or take the wheels off to replace the axles. We often had grease all over our hands when the chain came off. When we wanted a racing bike, we took the handlebars off and turned them upside down. Our bikes allowed us to be mobile and be independent. It also allowed mum to send us to get groceries when she had forgotten something.

I was in standard one when I learnt to ride. We lived at the town end of Stanley Street in Eketahuna. Before I learnt to ride, my oldest brother Brian use to dub me to school. One afternoon as we coming home, the Dillon twins were fighting on the main road in front of Reynoldís store. They were red headed Irish boys. Brian swerved to miss them and we came off. My arm was hurt. A visit to the chemist meant that I wore a sling for a week. A year later I was still complaining about my arm hurting so mum took me through to the doctor in Pahiatua. An xray at the showed that I had had a greenstick fracture, but that it had pretty well mended itself.

The first time I remembered riding any distance on my own, was one day when one of my brothers started me off up Stanley Street. Stanley Street was miles long to me. I pedalled along the straight road further and further. I still hadnít learnt how to turn corners, or to stop. I just kept going. Finally I decided that the only way to stop as to stop pedalling and fall off. I pushed the bike home as I couldnít get started again on my own.

At Waitara we went everywhere by bike. One afternoon after school I went back to the swimming baths at school for a swim. It was a 25 yard pool which had its water changed once a week. The water was not filtered. On the first day, the water was freezing, and during the week it gradually got warmer, and more like pea soup. By halfway through the week you couldn't see the bottom of the pool. The road to the baths went down a hill from Manakourahi Pa to a narrow concrete bridge at the bottom. A stock truck on its way to the freezing works was in front of me. I pedalled madly trying to keep up with it down the hill. I flew down that hill and managed to stay within a few yards of it. When it came to the bridge it slowed down. I couldnít. My brakes werenít working. What could I do? I could ride into the back of it or overtake it. I passed it on the bridge still going hell for leather. Another stock truck was coming across the bridge the other way! There was only just room for the two trucks to pass. I tried to go between them, crashed and woke up with several people bending over me. Surprisingly, after a visit to the doctor at Waitara, and an xray at New Plymouth Hospital, nothing was found to be broken. I was badly shaken but still alive. Some months later I came to Birkenhead on holiday. The Utting and Warth boys decided to go for a bike ride up Birkenhead Avenue, and down to Northcote via Raleigh Road and back up Onewa Road. Unfortunately there were not enough bikes to go round and I was given a scooter. Going down Raleigh Road I was scared stiff as there were no brakes on the scooter. My accident had affected me - but who has ever seen a scooter with brakes?

At the Sunday School picnics, we all took our bikes. We even had races. Slow bike races! We had to ride as slowly as possible in a straight line. The last one there won.

At Pahiatua when I was at high school, our biking skills really developed. In our paddock we mowed courses for speedways. On the lawns we had competence courses with ramps, jumps, and slalom courses. Our bikes regularly had punctures, buckled mudguards and other damage. The shed was our repair shop and the kitchen was often our paint shop. For many years all our bikes were green - the same colour as dad had painted our old 1926 Chrysler car. But now we had a new Ford Prefect and the remaining green paint had been sold with the car. We all eagerly painted our bikes black.

Looking for something to do in the holidays, we would ride to Palmerston North twenty seven miles through the Manawatu Gorge, and back. When we went camping at Foxton, we would ride the fifty miles there so we could use the bikes at the beach while on holiday. With the traffic on the roads today, this would be foolhardy, but we survived.

Mum always insisted on having a hot meal at midday so we always had to bike the mile home and back from school at lunchtime. A cut lunch was a treat. One of the jobs that one of had to do on our way home for lunch was to collect the bread. Before leaving for school we would collect a clean flour bag from the hot water cupboard and put either 4 pence or 7 pence haípenny in the bag, fold it up again and stuff it in our pocket. We collected the bread from the bakery. It was always still warm. I can still remember the taste of the bread plucked from the broken end of a half loaf. We always said that was the way it had broken!

After school for many years I delivered groceries for Yates. My bike was a standard size bike with an iron frame welded onto the front in which a half tea chest, cut longways was placed. I was always jealous of the other boy who had a specially built bike with a small wheel in the front. Each day the customers would ring their orders through and these would be packed into cartons. I delivered the south part of the town. The box was loaded with as many boxes as I could fit in. Iím always reminded of this when I watch an episode of Open All Hours. Most of the groceries were delivered safely, even if they did occasionally get a bit damp. A couple of times I miscalculated the width of the box on the front and hit power poles scattering the groceries all over the footpath.

When we moved to Christchurch and I went to Teachers College, our bikes went with us. I didnít have to ride the bike down, but dad had bought a 99cc Rambler motor bike with pedals. I had to ride that down. It had a top speed of about 25mph downhill and up the steep hills it needed a bit of help by pedalling. What a trip. The clutch cable broke at Parnassus and I got that fixed at the local garage.

In Christchurch, my bike was my transport. On cold frosty mornings I would wrap up with a scarf and gloves. When I arrived at school, Teachersí College or the hockey ground in winter, I would comb the ice out of my hair. While at school, I would often bike my girlfriend home in the opposite direction and come home double the distance. What dedication! During my years in Christchurch, I played the euphonium and later a mellophone, which is like a small French horn. These were strapped to my back and bounced as I rode along. It had been much easier playing the cornet, but I should have been grateful that I didnít play the double bass!

I then migrated to my own motor bike and cars. My first car was a 1927 Austin 7 with a collapsible hood which I left at home when I left as I couldnít keep, it going. Dad sold it for £12-10s. My motor bike was a Triumph 350cc. That is a story in itself. After we were married, although we had a Morris Minor, I did get an old bike - with balloon tyres. Remember them?

I miss my bike, but have no desire to ride one on the roads today.

Alec Utting
July 1997