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Many hazards for cycling outdoorsmen

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

I read a magazine story not too long ago about a man who "ingeniously" adapted his bicycle and converted it into a reliable hunting and fishing vehicle. The article ran on and on about what a novel and wonderful idea it was to think of employing a bike for such a purpose. In flowery terms, the author pontificated abut such things as "fuel conservation," "creativity," and, of course, "physical fitness."

All well and good, I suppose, but I had to think, "What's the big deal? Nothing new here." Before I turned 16 and terrified a state-of-Alabama examiner into issuing me a driver's license just so he could bring my road test to a merciful end, I regularly went hunting and fishing on a bicycle. And what a bicycle it was. No 500-speed, hi-tech marvel like the one described in the magazine, I assure you.

My bicycle (or perhaps I should say "in-line ATV") was a 1961-65 Schwinn/Huffy/Western Flyer. It cost about $3.75. That's what I paid for the assorted well-used components of three of the era's more popular makes and models, parts I used to assemble my own mongrel two-wheeler.

Looking back, the best thing about my all-terrain vehicle of yesteryear was its cost, a mere 6-weeks allowance, more or less. The worst thing about it was, well, everything else. To be kind, I'll just say my bicycle was not a novel and wonderful hunting and fishing conveyance. It was, instead, pretty much a disaster waiting to happen. I'll not go so far as to equate it with Stephen King's murderous automobile in his novel Christine, but it was close.

My bike was equipped with what was known as a coaster brake, a stopping mechanism many of today's young cyclists have never heard of, let alone used. A coaster brake worked when the bike rider applied backward pressure on the pedals, gradually locking the rear hub until the vehicle stopped.

Since my coaster brake was installed by a semi-moronic 11-year-old (That would be me, "ably" assisted by the equally brilliant Cletus Monroe), it was a coaster brake in the truest sense of the term. Applied when going downhill at roughly 30 mph, it kept right on coasting, as did the infernal devil-machine it was supposed to stop. Despite its shortcomings and sinister potential, the coaster brake was seldom responsible for injuries to my young personage. The reason for this was due to the handlebars normally separating themselves from the bike's frame before a no-brake incident occurred. Did you ever try riding a bicycle with no brakes and no handlebars while balancing a fishing pole or single-shot 16-guage across your shoulders? Try it sometime.

My hunting and fishing bike had a 26-inch wheel in front and a 24-incher behind. Hence, I pedaled uphill at all times, even on level ground. The seat, once soft, was threadbare with an errant spring that now and then found its way northward, always when I was well within earshot of interested and amused bystanders. There is still talk in my hometown today about the boy soprano who once rode his bike fishing and hunting.

Like all bikes, my one-wheel-drive vehicle was chain driven. Ah, the bicycle chain. Now there's a simple-yet-wonderful invention.

My chain was actually three pieces of what used to be one. Back then you could piece together anything with a little baling wire and a lot of hope. In my case, the hope always ran out at approximately the same time the rusty haywire snapped, usually somewhere deep in a creek swamp about six miles from home. Of course, a broken chain wasn't all bad. Broken and immobile, it couldn't eat my britches legs and turn the flesh around my ankles into sausage, as it regularly did during those infrequent times it was intact.

And just think, today people ride bicycles for fun. They even write books about that. They also write articles about a guy who ventures out astride a customized bike in pursuit of the wary whitetail and the noble trout. Oh, well, I guess that fella's too young to really appreciate the safety and comfort of a gas-guzzling 4-wheel-drive machine. Almost certainly he's never been hamburgered by a rusty three-piece chain or dosed by a seat-spring suppository.

If he had, the fool'd know better!