Barrio Bicyclist

A milestone birthday, a new hog reminiscent of his first real bike.

By Al Carlos Hernandez
Published on LatinoLA: June 21, 2002

Barrio Bicyclist

I had a milestone birthday last week and my wife bought me a new motorcycle. It is one of those loud 1,600 V Twin Harley Hog retro-bikes with a windshield saddlebags and high handlebars. It has a certain Easy Rider, bad boy biker vibe that causes people to give you the right of way.

Gone are my anonymous full-face shielded rice rocket days, bouncing the front wheel off the pavement in slingshot acceleration, bending forward dropping my knee to make sweeping 45 degree angle turns.

In the world of legitimate theatre, there is an axiom. If you see a gun or a rifle in the first act, eventually the gun will be used as a part of the plot usually in the third act. Well, the same holds true for motorcycles that can go three times the speed limit. If it can do it, I probably will try doing it, and at my age it could be my final act. We agreed as a protective reaction to my proclivity for the extreme, to get some less dangerous wheels with less lethal potential.

Cruising the thumping chrome spoke, white-walled, Iron Hog down into the barrio where I was born brought back some stark and visceral memories of my first real 26-inch bicycle back in the day. The similarities are remarkable.

There was a black and cream colored bicycle with big balloon tires, fat seat, rusty fenders and brown and silver spoke wheels showcased in a cluttered Salvation Army window. My brother and I would walk past the "segunda" a couple times a week after school and just admire the third-hand two-wheeler in the window. It seemed lonely surrounded by discarded yet freshly painted furniture; headless mannequins with ill-fitting outdated clothes, assorted scooters and homely dolls awaiting a Section 8 home.

My brother, who at nine years old could build erector set robots that could walk thought the bike too big, old fashioned, and way overpriced at 26 bucks.

All I saw was the potential. The bike could be my Pygmalion. For weeks, I daydreamed, planned, researched and surmised? if I took the fenders off, lowered the seat all the way, put some cool stickers over the rust and most importantly, took off the ram horn handlebars, and put on 24 inch high Ape Hangers, I would have the coolest bike in the projects. The bike in my mind was a fully chopped Harley with pedals.

Dad was not convinced but my birthday was coming up and he knew I wanted a bike and the price was right, but when he saw that bike, he looked at me with pity. I was a small skinny kid who wanted the biggest bike imaginable. He tried to steer me towards a scooter, but I wasn?t having it. It didn?t really occur to me that we lived on the second floor in the projects. He knew that I would have to schlep the bike up and down the stairs, and he knew I probably could not lift it but did not want to tell me about being frail and skinny.

With Mom as an advocate, Dad reluctantly agreed to buy the bike under the stipulation that he at no time would help me carry the bike up or down the stairs. As part of the structured deal, my brother would help me carry it until I learned how and/or developed the muscle. In turn I had to fix his bed, or not be a jerk or something. Needless to say, I reneged.

He and I carried it upstairs and went to work. We cleaned it, stripped it, polished it then bolted on the Ape Hangers, and then we made the debut. OK, I couldn?t ride it because although the seat was low and laying on the frame, my feet still couldn?t reach the pedals and the handlebars were way above my head, but it was all good and what I wanted.

After weeks of trial, error, hard crashes and getting stuck half way up the stairs, I finally got the hang of it, built myself up rather quickly, and had one of the coolest bikes in the hood.

Once again I have one of the coolest bikes in the hood and have learned some lessons about personal expression, vision and vehicular identity.

If your kid wants to trick his/her bike or car out, let them. Sometimes they discover themselves in the process and those lessons can last a lifetime.

About Al Carlos Hernandez:
Al Carlos is a contributing columnist to LatinoLA.com.

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