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By gordo

Growing up, riding bikes, my handlebars fell off twice. This is the story of the first time.

The blue and silver AMF Hawk 2 “BMX” bike was my pride and joy. The shiny fake chrome frame accented with blue rims, bars and pad set complimented the 2-speed drivetrain. That's right, 2-speed. The bike I received as a Christmas present was a BMX bike with “hi” and “lo” gears activated by a thumb shifter. As an adult, I realize this bike was nothing more than a gimmicky “Wal-Mart” bike of its time, but as a 6-year old, it was bred for shredding and I had plenty of “hi's” and “lo's” on that bike.

I rode the AMF Hawk 2 until I was about 9-years old. It whisked me through plenty of pedals around the neighborhood, jumps off sketchy wooden ramps and eventually, after a move to Michigan at age 7, it saw some days on a real, actual BMX track. My dad would take me to the BMX track to roll around the berms and bumps and eventually it was time to try a race.

I was that kid you see at the race with absolutely no clue about what's happening. I had my shitty AMF Hawk 2 and uninformed kit. The serious BMX racers had bikes made by CW or Hutch. They had “leathers” and “jofas” and 3-piece cranks. I had jeans, an off-brand helmet and a Schwinn jersey that was 3 sizes too big found at the thrift store. I didn't have the look, but I must have had the spirit because I could hang with the other kids in my class (novice 9-10). I would usually end up in 3rd as my pro-looking rivals, Jason Babcock and Jason Russell, always battled for 1st and 2nd place.

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The summer BMX season ended and competition moved to an indoor track to combat the dreary Michigan winter. The indoor races seemed more serious, and I felt more out of place with my crappy bike. I wouldn't have to feel out of place much longer.

With practice laps complete, I lined up with the usual suspects in the gate. From there, I don't remember anything. I have to believe this experience was so mentally and spiritually traumatic that my soul forced my brain to purge it from the memory banks so I could carry on as a mostly-normal human being. According to my dad, the gate dropped, the wobbly pack of groms successfully completing the first straight, round the first corner. At that point, we go behind the announcer booth, out of sight from my parents. 8 racers entered that dimly lit corner and only 7 survived. “Oh no! His handlebars fell off,” the announcer cackled over the P.A. Before taking inventory of the 7 remaining riders, my father instantly knew the announcer was talking about me. I was unhurt, on the ground in that empty corner of the track. My bars in hand and the rest of the bike dangling by the 2-speed shifter and brake cables. The quill stem bolt wasn't secure so my bars and stem lifted out of the frame.

My dad ran over and saw the mess. He picked me up and wheeled my lifeless, twisted bike awkwardly out of the building. I was walking behind him, head down, embarrassed as if the entire crowd was pointing and laughing (think Nelson, on The Simpsons going, “HA HA”). Warmth touched my neck as we went under the last ceiling-mounted heater before walking through the door, into the snowy parking lot.

I know people weren't pointing and laughing as we left, but it felt that way. My original memory is that my dad felt horrible and took me to the Schwinn shop the next day to buy a new bike. Turns out my dad understood all it took to remedy the situation was a tight stem bolt. Still, his guilt was turned into stoke for me, and we went and got a new "double gooseneck" stem for extra security and peace of mind. I now realize the folly in the stem upgrade because the clamping force on the bars was never the problem. My memory of the AMF Hawk 2 ends there.

Even though my handlebars had fallen off in front of dozens of in-the-know peers, I still wanted to ride bikes. Eventually the AMF was replaced with a sweet red and gold JMC with 3-piece cranks and yellow snakebelly tires. I showed up to the next indoor races with my new bike, plenty of confidence and proceeded to win 3 mains in a row, still in my jeans and over-sized jersey. Babcock and Russell never knew what hit 'em.

To this day, my father and I both get a kick out of telling the story. What should have been an experience to turn me off of bikes forever is the tale I always bring up when given the chance. My dad always plays the announcer on the P.A., exclaiming “his handlebars fell off," sometimes improvising by adding a stadium echo to the words, "OFF-Off-off." Immediately after delivering the line, however, he almost always looks down, shaking his head like any well-meaning father would. He describes the realization of knowing it was me on the ground, tangled in my bike without even having to see it for himself. Then we start laughing and anyone listening to the story laughs, too.

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