In 1982, my 5th class Social Studies assignment was on the Brisbane Commonwealth Games. We had to choose an Australian team member, write a story about their sport and glue newspaper clippings into a project book. ‘Kenrick Tucker’, Dad said. ‘All the other kids will choose swimmers. You should learn about track cycling’. I didn’t like getting help with my homework but I didn’t know who Kenrick Tucker was, so Dad watched the races with me and answered my questions. Why are they riding so high? Why do they swing up and down? Why aren’t they going fast from the start?
‘A kilo sprint isn’t just about going fast, Kimberley,’ he said. ‘It’s a game of chess on wheels’.
I liked playing chess with Dad. I would watch his face as my fingers hovered above the board, and wait for his pantomime expressions. ‘It’s not about getting to my side of the board fastest. Think about the next move, and the one after that,’ he said. ‘That’s how you win. Tactics’. If ‘kilo’ sprinting was like chess, Kenrick had to see the next move, and the one after that. He might be the fastest, but he would be knocked out without ‘tactics’. He’ll ride on the bank, or swing up and down the track, and then he’ll go, Dad said. ‘He’s smarter and faster than those other bastards. Wait.’ Then Kenrick went, and Dad was saying go, go, get in there, yelling at Kenrick Tucker like he did at Kingston Town. I jumped up and down on the lounge when he won and Dad didn’t even notice.
I don’t remember what I got for my assignment, but I thought about what Dad said about tactics. I had a yellow bike with gold glittery handlebars, a glitter stripe on the seat and spokey dokes, but I was getting too tall for it. My Dad had a big bike, a Malvern Star. It looked like the one Kenrick Tucker used, and my gangly legs could touch the pedals if one was at the top, or they were both even, and I didn’t move when Dad helped me up on to the hard ‘saddle’. Big bikes didn’t have long seats like mine for doubling someone behind you. If Mum was at work and we were going to my grandparents’ house after school, my Pop would meet us on Collier Street near the bike racks and double my sister on the flat handlebars, my brother and me riding behind. I could have had a double off ‘Old Arch’ or sometimes with Dad, but I was too scared to sit on the handlebars and keep my legs away from the front wheel. I was always cranky at how fast Old Arch would go, because it meant my sister would get a glass of lemonade and a scone from Nan before me.
Dad always put his bike in the garage after he knocked off from work, and walked over to the club for a drink. When we came home from Nan and Pop’s, we were supposed to put on our play clothes before we raced all of the other kids to the edge of the gully above the creek. I couldn’t go as fast as the kids with BMX bikes, even my brother. That’s when I remembered what Dad said. I wasn’t the fastest, but I had a plan. I put a milk crate next to Dad’s bike, moved the right pedal until it was at the top and held onto the edge of the garage while I swung my leg over. I tapped at the pedal and rolled down the driveway.
I hit the unsealed road on the thin tyres and turned left, towards the creek instead of riding up to the start line at the top of the hill. As the pedals ticked over by themselves, the boys started yelling at me to brake. They were riding after me and I knew I had to push the pedals back to make the bike stop or I was going over the edge and all the way down the gully. I looked down for the left pedal to come up and pushed my foot down. That’s when I learnt big bikes didn’t work like mine. The back of the bike started to slide on the dirt road and down we went. While the boys rode down on their BMX bikes I lay in the dirt, my left ankle caught on the pedal, its teeth clamped into me like one of Pop’s rabbit traps. I cried as they pulled the bike and me out of our own private dust storm, ankle, knee and elbow bleeding, school uniform and a sandal strap torn. The boys wheeled the bike home while I hobbled, crying, snotty with a big, googy egg bruise starting to rise on my temple. Mum came down the drive and yelled at me to get inside.
That was when I wished I had headed straight down the gully.