In the late 1950’s most of the bicycles were twenty six inch wheels, single gear, and had coaster brakes which applied when you pressed the pedals in reverse. The bicycles were heavy, had large tube tires, and large frame members. Once in a while you would see what we called an “English Bicycle” with narrow tires, three gears, and hand applied brakes, but they weren’t real common. We made our own repairs and fixed our own flat tires. Most bicycles were hand me downs or purchased used.One of my adventures became memorable because of too many sidewalk repairs. My chain guard was removed because the sprocket had so much wear the chain wouldn’t stay on. My rear axle assembly would not allow me to coast because the chain and sprocket were engaged all the time. There was no brake, but I could reduce speed by putting back pressure on the pedals if the bicycle was moving slow.
We would cross the old bridge at Lewiston,NY into Canada on our bicycles. We would spend the day riding along the river on the Canadian side and sometimes all the way to Niagara-on the Lake, ONT. We would buy firecrackers in Canada, hide them in our frame tubing and handle bars, and take them back across the border with us. They were legal in Canada, but not at home. We normally would wear school clothes, instead of play clothes, on these trips.
While riding down a long hill my pant leg got caught in between the chain and sprocket. This wasn’t uncommon and easy to contend with when a bicycle was operating normally. When you’re heading downhill with no brakes and unable to stop the pedals and sprocket from turning it becomes a crisis. My pant leg twisted up around the pedal and got tighter and tighter with each revolution. My whole effort was focused on finding a good place to land as the pant leg pulled me down the side of the bike. A convenient residential driveway allowed me to crash on a lawn instead of in the street. No harm as far as injury, but the pant leg was like a tourniquet on my lower leg. My friends had to get the bike in a position to wind the pedals backwards while maneuvering my leg around the pedal. We got my leg loose and it felt great to stand up. My pants were literally shredded by the chain and sprocket. There was grease almost to my knee from the chain. Grass stains were everywhere.
As we entered customs I wondered if they would let me go back home looking like a wreck. Hopefully, they wouldn’t find our contraband. There was a big sigh of relief as they waved us through. Now it was just a matter of getting home and explaining how my school clothes got demolished.
Wrecking my bicycle in Canada was bad enough……….but it looked like I had been on a seven day drunk when we cleared customs.