I’d had bicycles before “The Black Stallion,” my 18-speed Huffy that I also occasionally referred to as a “Huffy-Davidson.”
But I don’t remember any of them. The one with the training wheels that eventually got taken off. The one with the banana seat (I was riding in the ‘70’s after all). Even the “O.G.,” a tricycle that I can be seen grinning atop in photos in my baby book. I don’t have a single real memory of any of them, not even their color (the photos of the tricycle are in black-and-white), and surely none of them were ever given a nickname.
“The Stallion” was different. Yes, sometimes we all simply dropped the “black” when referring to it. The word “stallion” was what was key, as it conveyed the might of the machine. This was during a time when a Huffy wasn’t scoffed at by bicycle snobs, when they were made right here in the ol’ U.S. of A., and damned if that thing didn’t take a beating yet last me a good, long time too.
You may’ve noticed the word “we” being employed here. See, “The Stallion” was popular ‘round the stomping ground of my youth, the Morris Cove section of New Haven. Fact is, everyone knew the bike’s name. Even the older the kids - the ones blasting “Quadrophenia” on their boom-boxes while they leaned against the fence and smoked cigarettes. They would often ask if they could take it for a ride! The older kids!
Maybe “The Stallion” earned its reputation because of the way I spoke of it, with such affection and hyperbole. “18 speeds of pure, unadulterated rock ‘n roll” was how I’d introduce it, as if I were looking to sell the thing. Which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Or maybe simply because I was always on it, day and night, an Uber for the girls in the neighborhood, and a revered eyesore to the muscle-heads who couldn’t get those girls to give them the time of day.
The bike-riding of my youth was just so different from the bike-riding of today. We were as worry-free as we were helmet-free; heck, kickstands were considered a luxury. The 1980s had not yet turned bicycling into some Jane Fonda-esque workout either, resulting in asphalt bike paths desecrating once-wooded areas, with wrought-iron and oak benches every quarter mile or so to take a breather at, most with a plaque screwed into it so we knew just who to thank for such a magnanimous donation.
We took those areas on while wooded, creating bicycle paths of our own, the grass trampled down to the point of revealing dirt roadways like the old days, except these were befitting only a bike and could often lead you to an abrupt end, as those before tried again and again in vain to get to the top of some hill, if only to careen down the other side and truly create a “road worth taking.”
“The Black Stallion” had tires that had no business on this type of terrain, yet the mountain bike was either not invented yet, hadn’t made it to the East Coast yet, or was simply regarded as the BMW of bikes, and as such simply “not worth it” by the blue collar dads of The Cove, or their indifferent offspring.
We rode our neighborhood sidewalks with grace, weaving in between familiar faces and their leashed, barking dogs, taking to the streets only when necessary, not a honking horn to be heard. We’d have never thought to join the fray, treating our bicycle as if it were a car, jutting our arm out at a stop sign to indicate which direction we were going to take.
To be honest, merging your bicycle with the cars of Morris Cove in those late ‘70s, early ‘80s would have only guaranteed your butt got kicked. Except maybe The Stallion.
And so when the time came for my son to get his first “real” bicycle, I went with a Huffy. Yes, a Huffy-Davidson for the lad. His eyes popped when he saw it waiting for him, shiny and new, bright red and ready, in the driveway after school one day.
He rode it to school the next morning and every single day after that. Until one fateful day when some older kids who really knew their stuff about bikes — the kinds who have ramps in front of their houses and are basically future stuntmen — made a few Huffy jokes. What was once the “only bike in town” had clearly fallen from grace since the ‘80’s.
Next stop: Zane’s. The premiere bicycle location of the Shoreline was where we’d be getting his next bike, as he was already an inch taller by this point anyway. One of the many knowledgeable and gracious staffers did cop to the unfortunate fact that Huffy was not quite what it once was, and we left with a beast the kid had to be pried off of the following winter, when riding it to school became unthinkable.
The other day we were in the garage together and I pointed at that little red Huffy and said to the boy, “Ya know where you blew it? You never named it. If you deemed this The Red Rocker all bets woulda been off.”
He scoffed, but his gaze stayed fixed on that old, first bike. He knew there was a sliver of truth to what I was saying.