Watching the neighborhood kids cruise around on their bikes, it's easy to recall the exuberant feeling produced by that staple of childhood play. From the moment the training wheels came off, a sense of exhilaration rolled along with every pedal stroke. Life on two wheels at an early age was smooth speed and freedom -- powerful stuff.
Getting the car keys may have seemed like graduating into adulthood, but anyone with grownup responsibilities knows how fast they can wear thin. What better way to recapture the essence of youth than to hop on a bicycle and go.
Growing up, Scott Nelson of Millbury held on to the kid inside. "I've always been kind of a daredevil since I was a kid," he said by way of explaining his adulthood attraction to mountain biking.
Nelson likes "technical" off-road riding, the kinds of things you can do on a bike with knobby tires and a youthful attitude: bunny-hop over logs, cross stone walls, maneuver through ditches, get muddy. That was standard fare during the four-week series of mountain bike time trials he ran in Millbury, ending yesterday.
Nelson, 26, is trying to make a living as a cartoonist, another pursuit with natural appeal to children and the young at heart. Drawing bike cartoons -- for calendars, greeting cards, T-shirts and ads -- turns his work into fun, he said.
His work was recently on display -- on his back -- during the Boston Marathon. Nelson, his brother-in-law Roger Sabourin of Millbury and buddy Michael LaPlante of Auburn "unofficially" ran the 26 miles wearing T-shirts dubbing them Huey, Dewey and Louie and picturing a helmet-topped banana sporting sunglasses and leaning against a mountain bike. (Bananas are cyclists' favorite source of quick carbohydrates -- easy to carry in a shirt pocket and eat while riding, and the wrapper is biodegradable.)
Hey, if raisins can dance to soul music in TV commercials, bananas can be bikers. And remember, it's not only kids who eat this stuff up.
Nelson's "B.A.D.D." T-shirts acknowledge that bicycling on the road is not child's play. B.A.D.D. stands for Bicyclists Against Dumb Drivers, and a red circle-slash over a pretzeled bike wheel spells out the danger inherent when motorists and cyclists fail to share the road. Another model shows an errant Jeep, driver yakking on a cellular phone, jumping a guard rail.
Obeying traffic laws -- whether you're motoring or pedaling -- and wearing a seat belt or helmet are indeed grown-up responsibilities.
Another cartoonist, Bill Watterson, seems to recognize that cycling is not fully in children's domain. In Watterson's comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes," notice that it is not Calvin, the quintessential 6-year-old, who rides a bike. It's his old man.
Calvin's dad is so smitten by biking, he wants to quit his job and ride all the time. His wife's reply: "OK dear, want me to call the bike shop and see if they'll sponsor your mid-life crisis?" And Dad doesn't miss a beat. "Yeah, and ask 'em if they'll upgrade my shifters, too."
Perhaps the pursuit of pedaling prowess is really a sign of maturity and not so childlike after all. As H.G. Wells put it, "When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race."
I'd have asked Watterson about this, but Universal Press Syndicate told me he never gives interviews. In that case, I'd like to invite him on a bike ride, anytime he's in New England. And when I blow past him on a hill, he'll have to admire my B.A.D.D. apparel.
For your own B.A.D.D. T-shirt, contact Down/Up, 3979 Crater Lake Highway, Medford, Ore. 97504. (503) 734-4173.
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