It was not so much a bicycle, more an amalgam of bicycles, a frame from one, wheels from another, parts gathered from various places. Its improvised nature meant it was not as valued as much one that had arrived shiny and new. Once it was stolen, its absence prompting a telephone call to a local police station, where a pleasant officer asked for its description and then revealed that it has been handed in to them a week before; the thief had thrown it over a hedge between High Ham and Somerton.
Shiny and new it might not have been, but robust it was. No-one in our small village had heard of mountain bikes, riding the sort of terrain more familiar to a trials motor cycle rider was something we did on whatever bike we had. In early teenage years, the bicycle had been a great machine for riding the rough terrain of our local beauty spot.
One summer’s evening, perhaps the rain had been heavy, for road racing was preferred to “scrambling” around the dips and rises of the picturesque hillside. The course was agreed: we would start at the village cemetery and ride a narrow lane that took us almost to our usual gathering place, but, where the lane met another that came from the centre of the village, we would turn sharp right and ride back and finish at the village green.
The amalgam bike might have been robust, but it lacked the gears of the other cycles and its capacity for acceleration was minimal. Someone called “start”and we moved off, speedier riders establishing an early lead. Even having reached full speed, the group remained a good twenty yards ahead. It was when the bend was reached that the moment of opportunity arrived, two bicycles touched and two other riders missed the turn as they swerved to avoid the tangle. Cutting down the inside, the four were passed and a long straight lay ahead. With the sharpness of the bend, momentum had been lost and only a zig-zag ride back to the village prevented the others from overtaking.
Howls of protest and accusations of cheating ensued; appeal was made to the case of a Formula 1 driver who had zig-zagged in order to stay at the front of a grand prix race. The evening ended in disagreement, being first to reach the village green did not mean being recognized as winner.
It seems hard to imagine that a group of thirteen year olds had raced the lanes of our vilage, without need of a fear that parents might be worrying, without concern that a vehicle might come around the corner, without a thought for all those things that now exercise the minds of those concerned with child protection.
We may not have had a fraction of the wealth of those today, but in terms of freedom, we were infinitely richer.