The most excellent bike in the world
Vail, CO, Colorado
Running a family of six, we divert a good portion of our paycheck to the local Wal-Mart. There, I race through as fast as I can grabbing bread, cereal, milk, tortillas and apple juice like a person who’s won a 5-minute shopping spree. I get in and get out as quickly as possible not so much due to my dislike of many of Wal-Mart corporate policies, but because I know the longer I stay, the more I spend.
I try to avoid the place, but it is like a vortex for parents trying to feed a family in the High Country while diverting half their income to rents or mortgages. But on a recent afternoon, I ducked out of work for a few minutes to visit the Walton Family’s Super Center in Avon. There, I found exactly what I was looking for: A 16-inch boy’s bicycle that I knew would fit Andy perfectly. It was red, it had shiny stickers on it and some kind of roll-bar pad thing. Best of all, it was $34.99, an almost impossible price for an item as complex as a bicycle, and made so by an unseen army of industrial serfs in far-off China. I know I should have stopped to fret and hand-wring a bit more over working conditions in Tianjin, but I also knew I was filling a critical link in the global supply chain. Somehow, I was probably also helping to fight terrorism.
Plus, as I was soon to discover, I was rolling down the aisle a bicycle that was soon to be anointed with the title of “Greatest Bike in the World.”
The unseen Chinese workers had assembled for me a critical bit of machinery that plays a huge role in most children’s lives between the ages of 4 and 6. Andy was ready for training wheels off, and he’d been bumbling around the cul-de-sac in his old 12-incher, which was just too small for him anymore. I could have gone to a local bike shop and spent $100 or more on a snazzy new bike, but knowing that he’ll outgrow his latest ride over the coming long winter, I went for cheap.
The new bike came with a picture of a rocket ship on it, and Andy promptly dubbed his new ride “The Rocket 3000.” He took to it like a fish to water, quickly circumnavigating the cul-de-sac without incident and eager to get on the bike path to try a longer ride. In short order, we added a kick-stand (why they don’t put those on bikes anymore I’ll never know) and a handlebar bag. There, he keeps water and juice and an ample supply of Band-Aids and Neosporin. So accustomed is he now to the skinned knees and hands that accompany cycling, he’s gotten to where he whips out the bandages himself and applies them on the spot.
It is an age of superlatives. I am “The Best Dad Ever” for getting him the bike, and he unabashedly describes himself in Lance Armstrong terms: “I’m great at this biking now, aren’t I?” Even as he then spins into a one-bike collision and I have to extricate him from the pedals, I assure him that he is, indeed, great at cycling.
Now, if only Wal-Mart would come out with a $34.99 car for the 16-year-old.
Alex Miller can be reached at email@example.com.