Marc Armitage - Thought Crime

Chopper Envy

Chopper Envy

a \‘shȯrt-rēd’\ piece

When I was around ten-years old, we upped sticks from the place I still have my fondest childhood memories of (the Spring Bank area of my home city) to move to the unknown realm of East Hull. Being taken away from the junior school I had already been in for two years and from my circle of playmates was a tough one, but my parents bribed me with the lure of a bigger bedroom and a new bike.

The promise of a bigger bedroom turned out to be true. I measured the length and width of the old one with a ball of wool and comparing it to the new one discovered, sure enough, that it was bigger. Not only that but the old bedroom had one tiny little window and this one had two tiny little windows! A win win.

The new bike was something I had to wait for until the next Christmas, though.

I had learnt to ride a bike on one my dad had built out of odds and ends and then painted bright electric blue (no way would I ever loose that one in the dark). He taught me how to ride it in the age-old way of letting me loose on the local car park while he held on to the back of the saddle to help my balance. I kept saying to him, ‘Don’t let go, don’t let go!’ and he replied repeatedly, 'I won’t!’ with me not realising at the key moment that his replies were getting fainter and fainter.

The electric blue bike had not been brought with us to the new house because I had outgrown it by then, and with my new school being just that little bit too far to walk twice a day a new bike was going to be essential.

First taste of independence 

It is difficult to appreciate how important autonomy of movement is for children. The opportunity to travel significant distance away from the home patch easily and quickly in groups with your mates opens up a whole new world for children full of  possibilities. It is with peddle power that most children get to experience a sense of freedom for the first time.

Later in this story, for example, my friends and I would check out our bikes from the school bike park at the beginning of lunchtime and head off in a pack to the Lido in East Park (outdoor swimming pool for the unfamiliar). There we would spend an hour unaccompanied by any adults swimming lengths and diving to the bottom of the pool for pennies thrown in as a challenge; then we would peddle like mad back to school eating our sandwiches on the way.

Long before that on the twice-daily walk to my new school I had to pass Richardson’s Cycle Shop and so got to see my new bike in the window every day. It was obviously going to be a Raleigh Chopper - the bike to have at the time. It’s tall, swooping handlebars, high backed seat and small front wheel/big back wheel arrangement was the bee’s knees and I knew this is what I would be getting. 

I already had the accessories planned out. I was going to have the set of streamers that attached to the handlebars and the beads to go on the spokes that clacked as they zoomed around. It was going to be great! 

How do you wrap a bike?

And then the great day came. Christmas! Getting up early and heading to the Christmas tree showed that, sure enough, a new bike had arrived! It was (badly) covered in Christmas wrapping paper but the outline clearly gave away what it was. The excitement was unbelievable as I ripped through the paper to behold my brand new shiny, erm ... Raleigh 20 Shopper!

It was an excellent bike for school, I was told; very comfortable to ride, they said. Lightweight. Had a purpose built carry bag on a frame at the back for my books (that was the 'shopper' bit); ideal commuter.

But it wasn’t a Chopper.

I was gutted and also deeply embarrassed on the first few trips to school in the new year. It did the job but I looked longingly at the new Choppers that my school mates rode in on after Christmas with envy. I never did get to own one. 

My parents, bless ‘em, didn’t really get my disappointment - they were thinking practical and possibly cost as well. Still, it got me to and from the Lido every summer lunchtime for the next two years and that’s what counts.

I wonder how much they cost now, though, and do they do them in my size?

Tell me: what was your first bike? What memories do you have of it?

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16th June 2020

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