Rheta Johnson: Gone with the Schwinn

August 31, 2013 8:37:37 PM

Rheta Grimsley Johnson -


The Wall Street Journal had one of its trademark front-page features the other day about how slow-bicycling sans spandex and road helmets is making a fast comeback. One man's "Slow Bicycle Movement" Facebook group has 7,300 members, the article said. 


Has to do with Boomers, of course, the elephant in the python, and our yearnings for the leisurely biking we did as kids. Our bikes back then were as much portable seats as anything else, not unlike the shooting sticks used as stools by British sportsmen. We balanced atop our Schwinns, joking, talking and goofing off as much as we rode. 


Bikes often were helpful getting somewhere --to a friend's house, the store, school, the YMCA's overchlorinated swimming pool --but I don't ever remember racing anyone or worrying about my individual time going up and down the twin hills that flanked our suburban home. The show-offs in our gang rode with "no hands" derring-do that often resulted in bloody knees. 


Our bikes looked different, too, from those owned by "serious" cyclists since gears and gear became the prevailing fad. Girls often had baskets or bells, boys had horns, and most of us had baseball cards attached to the spokes to make a satisfying click when the tires spun. 


When my late husband Don was a small child during World War II, with its rationing and short supplies, you couldn't buy a new bicycle. He was delighted when Santa delivered a "new" bike one Christmas with Donald Duck on the handlebars. He was delighted, that is, until a friend said the distinctive duck bike had previously been his. 


Bicyclists of my childhood wore more corduroy than Lycra. We wore to bike whatever we happened to be wearing --cut-off jeans, flip-flops, overalls or the occasional sundress. 


I think I gave up bicycling when those awful form-fitting britches became the norm. Even the most toned and dedicated cyclist looks all thighs in those. 


There was another reason I haven't biked in years. I was scared. Every friend I knew who biked routinely eventually had an accident. Betty got hit by a car while returning from work in D.C. John got creamed in New Orleans and was laid up for a time. Now my good friend Eddie in Iuka -- where there's scarcely enough traffic to justify the town's one stoplight -- spun out of control to miss a belligerent dog. 


That said, this slow movement is much more appealing. A group called Boston Leisure Bicycling includes ice-cream stops in its outings. That surely sounds more like what I remember from childhood, when it was possible to eat a Popsicle and coast down the hill while singing and waving at school friends. 


When I think about it, walking used to be different, too. And running. We did a lot of both in childhood, but neither was something that required special shoes, shorts or earphones. 


When an activity gets its own clothing line and related paraphernalia, the fun goes out the window. Ditto too much organization, as in marathons and meets. 


It's probably not a good sign that The Wall Street Journal made much of so-called slow-biking and proclaimed it a fad with Facebook clubs. Next thing you know there will be slow-biking clothes, fancy footwear and $3,000 beaters for old bike bums like me.