Everyone can recall their first bike

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— In some ways, it's amazing that Steamboat Springs City Councilman Jim Engelken grew up to be the well-adjusted adult that he is. What most people don't know about Jim, and probably something even his wife did not know until today, is that his very first bicycle was a girl's bike.

Now, there was nothing wrong with a girl's bike in those days if you were a girl. But if you were a boy growing up in Denver, a baby blue bike with a banana seat and a missing crossbar was a distinct liability.

Like most of us, Jim can recall everything abut his first bike. But he'd prefer to remember the big silver bike he used on his first paper route.

Engelken overcame any complexes his first bicycle inflicted on his psyche to become a member of the Steamboat Springs City Council as well as a lifelong cyclist. On City Council, he became an effective and ardent supporter of mass transit and tackled the tough issues concerning vehicular traffic flow in the city. He is also a familiar sight in Steamboat, pedaling his bicycle (he rides a Specialized Rockhopper these days) all over town, including to City Council meetings. It's fair to say Jim Engelken has always backed up his talk about controlling traffic congestion with his own actions.

Engelken isn't running for re-election this fall, and it's pretty easy to guess his would-be successors will debate proposals for new sales taxes in the upcoming election. One aspect of the tax debate will be funding for city transit. That funding will be tied to funding for the winter airline program. Engelken is on record in opposition to any increase in local sales taxes.

No matter how the debate and the vote turn out, Jim Engelken should always be recalled as a councilman who was unflinching in his determination to move the debate forward.

If you didn't notice that traffic on Lincoln Avenue was clogged up this summer, you were riding your bicycle with blinders on.

A report from a consultant hired by the city in April 1998 reached the conclusion that Lincoln Avenue in downtown Steamboat Springs was already operating at capacity. The same report concluded that a four-lane downtown bypass that would necessitate ripping up Howelsen Hill Park and moving the Bud Werner Library wouldn't completely solve Steamboat's traffic problem. City Council permanently tabled any thought of the four-lane bypass.

So how do we fix the traffic bottleneck in downtown Steamboat? We probably don't. But Engelken says something we definitely need is a system of high-frequency downtown shuttles. That system would allow employees and shoppers commuting to Steamboat from the west to park at the Stockbridge park-n-ride and get out of their cars.

I'll miss Engelken's voice on City Council, but I'm glad he'll have more time to ride his bike next spring.

Bicycles cannot compete with Americans' passion for the sport utility vehicle. But there is a universal truth about bikes everyone, and I mean everyone, can recall their very first bicycle in detail.

If you don't believe it, just ask your co-workers. I did.

One of the newspaper's reporters recalls her first bike in the early '80s as the "Strawberry Shortcake" model, named after a doll that was promoted heavily on television during that era. The bike was pink and had a little wicker basket on the handlebars with a big strawberry on it. One of the guys in the newsroom was well known in the neighborhood where he grew up because his bike had solid rubber tires. They couldn't be inflated, and they couldn't get a flat. But their most noteworthy quality was the fact that they excelled at laying down rubber on the sidewalk.

Another newsroom pundit recounts how he was an outcast when he moved to Colorado as a youth. His dated Spyder style bike with the raised handlebars and brown paint job didn't measure up to the BMX bikes of his new playmates. His father converted the old bike into a BMX bike by adding pads to the frame and bolting on a more fashionable handlebar.

But he never quite got over the fact that his brother's bike had a bigger sprocket than the tiny sprocket on his old bike. I guess you could say he had sprocket envy.

Then there's the guy at the Pilot whose first bike was tricked out to look like a cop's motorcycle with a "police windshield" and fake lights. His mother allowed him to ride around the block, but he was forbidden to cross the street.

Just think Jim there are worse things than starting out on a baby blue bicycle.

Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in Steamboat Today.

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