Sometime between the ages of 8 and 10 I got a beautiful, brand-new pink bicycle for Christmas. It was hiding in the basement, and my parents sent me down to take a peek after all of the other presents were gone, and there it was — shiny and new, a petal-pink bike with white wheels and pedal brakes. I loved it, and rode it all afternoon on that sunny Christmas day. My sister had a blue bike with white wheels, and was very happy that I wouldn’t be borrowing hers anymore, and so in the many days to come we’d ride around the neighbourhood with the neighbourhood kids from after school until dinnertime. Those were happy, happy days. I loved my pink bike. I loved the sense of freedom it gave me — I could just ride as fast as I could, feel the wind on my face and leave everything behind.
In grade 7, the pink bike was still my main source of transportation, and I didn’t even notice that everyone around me were now getting “ten-speed” bikes. I didn’t feel the lack of a ten-speed bike at all, because I loved my pink bike. It had no speeds, but on that pink bike I could pedal faster than anyone in our neighbourhood — on that pink bike I could fly. One day it was announced in my school that all of the Grade 7 kids would be participating in a “Bike-a-thon,” and biking around Barnston Island. To get to the little island we’d have to take our bikes across on a little ferry. My friends and I buzzed with excitement — a whole school day devoted to riding bikes around a beautiful little island! Such a fun adventure.
When the day of the bike-a-thon arrived I loaded my petal-pink bike with the white wheels into the back of our big brown station wagon, and my mom drove me to the ferry, where we’d all be meeting with our bikes. When we drove up I saw the excited group of fellow grade 7 students, my friends, my classmates, all gathering in a big group. And then my face fell as I saw all of their bikes. Everyone had a big, bright, beautiful ten-speed bike. Everyone, that is, except for me. All of a sudden I realized that my bike was a baby’s bike. Mine was the smallest, the pinkest, and the only one with the white baby wheels. I was mortified. I briefly thought about trying to convince my mother to turn the car around and flee, but some of my friends had already spotted me, so it was too late. Steeling myself, I emerged from the car. I walked mechanically around to the back and swung open the big, creaky back door of the brown station wagon. My face numb, I pulled out my stupid, embarrassing, pink baby bike. It didn’t help that we were late and I was the last to arrive. Sheepishly I wheeled my pink bike over to the crowd of my peers, committing, in my 12-year-old mind, nothing less than complete social suicide. It was impossible not to notice the stares and whispers of the other kids as I tried to find a place to stand among the group where I could hide my pink baby bike and not stick out like a sore thumb, which proved impossible to do. To try and salvage myself, I turned against my little pink bike. On the ferry ride over I made deprecating comments to my friends about my baby bike and how I was saving up for a “real” bike, but wasn’t quite there yet. I made jokes about how hard it would be for me to keep up without any speeds, but that my legs were the speeds, and I would try to set them to different ones. My friends laughed with relief, as if they had all been thinking the very same thing, and were happy that I was the one who said it. My one solace was that I knew I was fast on my little bike — I’d show them how great it was once we were on the course.
The teachers said, “Ready, Set, Go!” Everyone took off. I gunned it, my legs cycling around as fast as I could make them go — the burning in my face like a furnace of furious speed, transmitting their embarrassment to my legs with the message, “It’s up to you, now! You’ve got to fix this! We’ll be the fastest kid out here; we’ll show all of those fancy ten-speeds what speed really looks like!” It started out okay, but it wasn’t long before my pitifully inferior bike naturally lagged behind all of the big, shiny, ten-speeds with their huge wheels and their shifting gears. I felt like the slowest, most awkward, most pitiful cyclist on the course. Some of my friends tried to stay near me, but I quickly fell behind and felt obligated to tell them to go ahead. Slowly, painfully I cycled around the island, as people quickly lapped me on their ten-speeds. It was the hills that really killed me — my churning legs aching to get those little white wheels up and over each bump in the road. The tears in my eyes and the heat in my face became more evident then, and the only relief was the times that I could speed down the downhill portions, where the resulting wind would cool my face and blow my tears away.
I didn’t ride my pink bike after that — I was just too embarrassed to be seen on it. I threw all of my efforts into saving up my babysitting money for a real bike – an eighteen speed, by the time I saved up the money; a beauty with big black wheels, a dark purple-black exterior, handle brakes, and attitude. It was the antithesis to that stupid little baby bike that had caused me such grief.
The day of the bike-a-thon was a day I was forced to grow up quite a bit, and it’s a day that will be burned in my memory for as long as I live. One day my bike was the fastest in the neighbourhood, petal-pink and perfect. The next day it was a slow, pathetic, baby’s bike.
Growing up is hard, sometimes.