By Rob Roglev, Associate Director Online Design, DK Publishing
With sweaty palms I gripped the diamond-textured black rubber handlebar grips in anxious anticipation. My turn was almost up. The day was warm and sunny, no mud on the red clay track. It had been sculpted by hundreds of breakneck slaloms down the steeply graded hardpack. In hindsight, the earthen ramp at the end of the course was more molehill than mountain, but to me, at the tender age of ten, that was immaterial—this neighborhood-grown BMX run was legend. There was no better way to test one’s mettle and your parents’ health coverage than a Simpson-esque leap over a tiny brook—ankle-deep at the height of its gurgling grandeur—via two wheels and five feet of manually excavated embankment. Stories of aborted and poorly executed jumps along with epic failures (Jimmy Deegan lost his front teeth and the tip of his tongue from a mistimed approach) have long surrounded this place, imbuing it with mystique and an aura of menace. Despite the ever-present danger, kids far and wide (aka the next block over) flocked to that undeveloped tract of land every summer to hone their skills, assess their courage, and more important, flaunt their hot new rides.
Without a doubt, the most coveted bike of the time was the Mongoose Supergoose BMX. Every boy still in possession of unscarred knees had to have one, but my parents couldn’t grasp the cultural significance behind its hard vinyl saddle, power fork, and the totally optional but must-have Skyway mag spokes, so I never had the pleasure of owning (and wrecking) my own. Then again, I wasn’t the flashiest kid on the playground. My tastes were more functional and ergonomic, which is why I was instantly drawn to the buttock-ally beatific bread loaf seat on the Huffy #54 Thunder Road. If the Huffy had a purpose, it was comfort. Yes the Supergoose was track-rated and very much a testament to power-slides and wheelies, but the #54 was the sweeter ride, and let’s face it, having a moniker like “Thunder Road” was exceptionally badass.
From the moment I first saddled up on that black beauty, I felt like a god. No curb was too tall, no pothole too wide for bounding across with abandon—each bounce and bump bliss on the butt. Crossbar and crotch-guard padding? Not for this guy—I was hardcore! I pulled my first-ever wheelie on the Huffy, which, given my youthful gawkiness and tiny frame, was no small miracle. The old #54 took everything I threw at it with controlled aplomb. It was my constant companion during those long-ago summers collecting spent fireworks and chasing frogs in vacant lots. And it was my choice of hardware for that coming-of-age virgin run down the neighborhood BMX trail.
I nervously approached the lip of the launching platform (a ratty affair cobbled together with plywood and two-by-fours liberated from a local housing development), heart pounding in my already parched throat. Backing out of the challenge now would have marked me as a coward, so feigning illness or being summoned by Mom for an early dinner of mac-n-cheese offered no viable alternative to hurling myself down the hill. Living down such soul-crushing embarrassment, especially after asserting my Huffy’s superiority to the Supergoosers, would have scarred my psyche for life—or at least the next week—so I rolled myself back, glanced at the sky one last time in hope of some divine intervention, and plunged headlong down the slope, my tiny legs pumping mightily to keep up with the Thunder Road’s Achilles’ heel, its fixed gear.
The devil was on my shoulder that day. I was rolling thunder on a Thunder Road. An adrenaline-fueled radiance rose up inside me as I effortlessly skirted the kid-made and natural obstacles lining the track, hitting that final crest of earth with all the momentum a #54 two-wheeler and fifty-pound preteen could muster, and catapulting my faithful steed into the warm summer air. While there were no midflight style points to be awarded—it took all of my focus to not land fork-first, breaking mine and the Huffy’s necks—I managed my return to terra firma with nary a scratch, only wiping out when the Road’s rear tire snagged an exposed tree root. (If only I had made a better case for those aftermarket mag spokes to my parental units.)
The Everest of my youth is long gone now—a victim of gentrification and an army of backhoes—but its legend endures. And what of my beloved Huffy? Well, the black beauty with the bread loaf seat and #54 nameplate found a home with a darling little boy who happened by our pre-college yard sale one late summer, parents in tow. The light in his eyes as he hopped on board for his first test spin was all the proof a heavy heart needed that this constant companion of my youth would be well taken care of and loved.
Bicycles are like significant others, each leaves an indelible mark on your life. Celebrate those marks and moments with DK’s Bicycle: The Definitive Visual History.