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Childhood dare sparks lifelong love of biking

The first really big challenge in my life came when I was about 5 or 6. I took my first fearful ride on a bicycle. After I begged her to let me try, my oldest sister dared me and bet me a dime I couldn't do it.

When I straddled the blue balloon-tired girls' frame, I could barely see over the handlebars. I had watched my two sisters do it, so I figured I should be able to ride this bicycle. I had to. Where would I get the dime to pay off the bet?

At this early age, I had not yet learned the great physics secret that makes it nearly impossible for a rolling bicycle to fall over.

After saying a quiet prayer and closing my eyes to imagine what I would look like rolling confidently along the sidewalk, I opened my eyes wide and pushed off, one foot on the pedal, the other close to the ground.

I realized that I'd have to get the pedals turning, but first I rolled forward just far enough to get a sense of balance. I put my feet down and heard my sister say, "that's not riding a bicycle." She made up the rule that I had to go all the way to the corner of our street, pedaling and staying upright.

I closed my eyes, said another prayer and imagined what I would look like turning the pedals. That part made me queasy because I saw myself bobbing up and down as each foot rotated from the bottom to the top with each turn of the crank. I'd be really up there, far from the safety of the sidewalk.

I pushed off again, felt balanced and took a turn of the crank, coasted along and then set my feet down again.

I concentrated on going the distance, knowing I could not afford to fail because I didn't have a dime to pay off the bet. Besides, being the youngest, I learned to do just about everything because my brother and sisters dared me to do it.

By this time, I was feeling more confident but still scared that I'd topple over and probably -- well, who knows what. I didn't let myself imagine that part of it, although I guessed a lot of blood would be involved.

Because I had gone halfway to the corner by this time, my sister made up another rule. I had to get back up to her designated starting line.

With the pedal at the top of the crank and my foot on the pedal, I pushed off and advanced one half turn. I rolled as far as I could, then pushed on the other pedal. I was breathing and concentrating so hard I had no consciousness of anything else other than that rolling bicycle and me.

I did it! My first solo bike ride -- from our driveway to the corner of the street, not far, but far enough to win the dime bet and take the first of many solo long-distance bike rides. I turned the bike around and biked back to the starting line.

I was so excited I forgot to collect the dime.

However, I have collected more than my share of memories of solo bike rides from Portland, Maine to Shaker Heights, Ohio; Cleveland to Marblehead on Lake Erie, a ferry boat to Leamington, Ont., and then by bike to Toronto and by train to Montreal; and finally down the coast of California from San Francisco to San Diego -- all this from a dare and a dime bet.

Suzanne Toomey Spinks, of Buffalo, is known around town as the bicycle lady.

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