My love of bicycling began in late May 1968. I was six years old. One of my buddies, Rex, a couple of years younger that me, who lived right next door, got my attention one day.
“Hey Mike, there’s a bike in your basement,” he quipped with a bit of a conspiratorial tone.
“What? Where?” I answered with some excitement. We were on the south side of my mom and dad’s house in an area between Rex’s house and mine.
“Look through the window there.” He pointed at the small window in the foundation nearby. I knew where that window led. It was a small room in our basement that my folks referred to as the “oil room.” The only thing normally in that room was a large oil drum which previously fed the oil furnace that my dad had recently replaced with a new, fancy gas furnace. I looked in, and sure enough, I could make out the form of a bike in the shadows below.
Of course, Rex and I, along with his little brother, Roy, hightailed it through my backdoor and down my basement stairs to investigate. As I approached the door to that little room, I was so freaking excited. I couldn’t believe it. I was getting a bike. That was the only reason a bike would be in there. Still, I’d have to wait. The door was secured. I couldn’t get it open. Apparently, no peeking allowed.
A few days later, after a period of intense anticipation, my graduation from 1st grade occurred and my reward was a shiny new 20” Schwinn Stingray. For the next six years, that bike was my ticket to adventure—especially after I finally learned to ride and the training wheels came off.
Soon, I had the run of the neighborhood. I rode up and down 21st Street in Muncie, between Hackley and Grant Streets. I cruised the alley behind my house. It wasn’t long before I was jumping homemade ramps and racing my friends. One of those races ended with my first serious sports-related injury—a broken collarbone.
My buddy Jerry wanted to race me down the alley from my street to his street. We took off on the gravel ruts with a grassy center section and gave it all we had as we tried to beat one another to the finish. As I recall it, I was slightly ahead and I looked over my right shoulder to see where he was. (Important Note: When racing, don’t ever look back.) As I turned my eyes back toward the goal, I realized I was veering off the path toward a large bush.
With no time to turn away, I slammed the pedal brake and went into a skid. I slid sideways into a short steel and concrete post that had been placed there, likely, to protect the shrub from the huge garbage trucks that rumbled weekly down that same alley. I hit the post hard and it flung me in the air. I remember sort of flipping before landing on my right shoulder.
About a week later, with my right arm in a sling, I started 3rd grade and had to learn to write lefthanded.
I kept that bike into middle school. When I completed 7th grade, my dad repeated his 1st grade reward and bought me an AMF 10-speed from Montgomery Ward. It was an ugly orange, but it widened my range. I rode it every day of every summer until I got my driver’s license in 1978. Even after that, it was my most consistent form of transportation, even into my college years. It never took me to school, but it took me to various friends’ houses, my youth leader’s house, my church, and to a myriad of other places for six or seven years. I would ride it all summer, then tuck it into my folk’s basement for winter storage.
Then, one spring, I went downstairs to get it out, clean it, lube it, and take it for a spin. It was gone. To this day, I don’t know what happened to that bike. It had disappeared.
I have three theories:
My next bike was acquired during my first year of marriage. My wife and I scraped up enough money to buy a couple of Sears & Roebuck Free Spirit Ten Speeds. Let me say, these were the two worst bikes I’ve ever had. I could never get them adjusted correctly, they were heavy, and they were hard to pedal. We kept them around for maybe three years before parting with them. We hardly put more than twenty miles on them the entire time we owned them.
Tip: Always buy your bikes from a professional bike shop. You’ll get better quality bikes and they’ll be assembled by someone who knows what the heck they’re doing.
After the Free Spirit debacle, I was bikeless for around eight years or so. Then, cycling reentered my life. I bought a new, cherry-red, Trek mountainbike. No suspension, just an aluminum-framed ticket to wind in my face. It was a breath of fresh air—literally and figuratively. Plus, bugs in the eyes. (I learned to wear sunglasses. As a kid, I always wore regular glasses, so I didn’t even consider bugs in the eyes.)
I was living on the southeast side of Indianapolis at the time and I began to ride five-mile loops for exercise. Soon, I convinced my buddy Steve to get a bike, too. We began riding together. Not long after, I hatched a scheme. I got to where I could ride ten miles with no issues. I realized my mom & dad’s house was only about 70 miles away. If I could repeat the ten miles seven times, I could ride all the way to my folk’s place. That didn't sound too tough to do. “Hey Steve…” Yep, he jumped on board and we started training. A couple of months later, we made the journey, just the two of us, with no sag support. We did map out a route and we did carry supplies, but we were all on our own with no real experience in bike maintenance. Fortunately, we had no mechanical issues and hours after we started out, we struggled into my folk’s front yard, dehydrated, exhausted, and quite hungry.
We did the journey again the next year as a fundraiser for a charity our church sponsored. Somewhere around fifteen people joined us for that one. It was such a success, we kept it going for the next several years. It kept getting bigger until we had close to 100 riders, plus a kid’s version, too. After the second year, we changed it to a loop starting and ending on the southeast side of Indy and named it the Mission Challenge Ride, or MCR for short, but kept the distance at approximately 70 miles. I think we kept it going annually until 2002 or or maybe 2003. Then, it just ended as our church dynamic changed, and I couldn’t continue to promote it.
By the way, after the first year, I added a Trek roadbike to my two-wheeled collection. In the last year of the MCR, I sold that one to a buddy and bought a brand, spanking new Lemond roadbike. That’s the bike I still ride on longer rides to this day. It has a steel frame rather than aluminum, so it’s more forgiving to my larger, stiffer body than the aluminum versions, and it fits me very well. I still love that bike, even though it’s nearly twenty years old now.
After the annual MCR events came to an end, my enthusiasm to get out on the pavement tailed off. Most of my riding buddies had gone other directions. I rode some through 2006. I rode the Hilly Hundred in Indiana in 2006. However, I went inactive for the next two seasons, hanging my Lemond on my garage wall.
In 2009, I got my groove back. I pulled the bike from the wall and started cranking off the miles. I had a personal goal. I wanted to complete a Century Ride—100 miles in a single day, something I’d never done. I trained. I watched my food. I trained some more. Miles and miles and miles. I continued training until mid-September 2009, the day I met my goal on the Cardinal Greenway.
My wife drove sag for me all day. She said it was the most boring day of her life. I would leave from a point on the trail and she would drive to the next planned stop to refill my water bottles, give me something to eat, and add in some encouragement. It was an all-day affair, but I did it. 108 miles in total. Century ride comleted.
One week later, I tore my right Achillies tendon and I’ve never quite returned to the cycling form I’d reached during that last significant accomplishment. The bike returned to the wall.
Last year, I pulled the bikes out again. I still have the Lemond, which I use for rides longer than twelve or fifteen miles, but I also have a Trek “flat-bar roadbike,” which I think is a fancy term for a hybid—a bike that is sort of a cross between a roadbike and a mountainbike. I put a lot of miles on the Trek last year and even some longer rides on the Lemond. It was a good year, but I’m nowhere near where I was in 2009. Still, there’s always this year.
We’ll see. I still love the freedom on the country roads, the sun on my legs, the wind through my helmet slots, and the bugs bouncing off my sunglasses. Maybe I’ll see you out there on the road.
Michael DeCamp is a husband, father, uncle, son, and brother. He built a career in industrial sales while maintaining a spiritual life in pursuit of a love for God. He has published two fantasy thrillers, one collection of supernatural/fantasy short stories, and one devotional book. (There are more on the way.) He also produces a podcast (The Cutters Notch Podcast) that provides a new episode approximately once per month.