“Hey, nice bike! Where’d you get it, Sesame Street?” sneered a group of neighborhood bullies as I glided past on my sparkly green and yellow 1957 Schwinn Stingray. A small rock lobbed by one of them sailed past my head, and I knew it was time for me to start thinking seriously about getting a new bicycle. I wondered how I’d held on to a bike with 20-inch wheels for so long, especially at a point in life when being different in any way whatsoever is so frowned upon.
The spring of my seventh grade year began like many others — bicycles, skateboards, and other fun things were dug out of the dark recesses of the basement and placed in the more accessible environs of the garage, to be used during the summer months. When the old classic that had brought me so much joy during other summers was hoisted up the stairs once more, it had scarcely occurred to me that it was time to move on. What was I doing riding a little kid’s bike anyway? After all, in that suburban land of plenty, there were other options to be had.
The bullies’ cruel laughter rang in my head as I mapped out a scheme to replace the Schwinn. Thinking their old Raleigh three-speeds were the next evolutionary step in bicycle ownership, my parents urged me to get one, too. I knew they meant well, but I had other ideas. There was only one type of bike for me, and that was a mountain bike. I suppose the fact that they were the rage in 1991 had something to do with my choice, but their rugged off-road capability presented a loophole solution to a particular problem I had. My parents wouldn’t allow me to cross the main road into town, so I was confined to a monotonous suburban hell from which I desperately needed to escape. My plan? If I couldn’t go across the road, I’d go under it. I had noticed a number of rock-strewn culverts that were big enough to ride a bicycle through — owning a mountain bike was clearly the way to go.
Having toured several bike shops, I was nearly overwhelmed by the number options, but eventually, I found one with a bike that spoke to both me and my wallet at the same time. Its steel wheels glinted under the showroom lights, its bright yellow letters resplendent upon a black frame; I knew that the 1992 Diamond Back Outlook was exactly what I needed. The salesman, a long-haired teenager sporting bloodshot eyes and a smelly flannel shirt, tried to talk me into a model with more bells and whistles, but with a strict budget and simple goals to be minded, I was not to be dissuaded. I placed my hands on the squishy handgrips and gave the brakes a squeeze, closing my eyes as I took in the smell of new rubber. This was the one. This was my salvation. My dad must have thought I was nuts as I stood there silently, conjuring images of freedom. When I got it home, I was about to take a ride down the creek trail near our house, but was cut short by my mother. “It’s too dark out, Ben. You’ll get hit by a car or something.” In my excitement, I hadn’t even noticed that night had fallen.
The next morning, I was up and out the door with a quickness that no school day could ever muster. My mom protested as I bolted outside without having eaten breakfast, but there was no stopping me. There was a whole world to explore on my new Diamond Back. In fact, my family wouldn’t see much of me for most of the summer. I spent most of my time exploring creek beds, gas pipeline rights-of-way, wide culverts — any rough path that would gain me access to the world outside of our development. Sometimes I went with friends, but most of the time I didn’t. By winter, a thick layer of mud coated the frame of my well-used mountain bike, and the wheels were warped enough to warrant upgrading to aluminum ones. When my dad finally let me pull it out of the basement the next spring, I had saved enough for a fresh set of knobby offroad tires. With the new meats on it, the bike looked as good as it rode when I was charging though the cold Northern Virginia mud that spring. Eventually, my parents lifted their seasonal restriction, and there was many a day when I braved the biting mid-winter cold to enjoy the crunch of ice-encrusted mud beneath my bicycle’s wide tires.
The seasons came and went, and as I got older, I found myself spending more and more time exploring pockets of the suburbs that had yet to be turned by a dozer’s blade. Unfortunately, when the car bug bit me sometime toward the end of my sophomore year, I got caught trying to fix my parents’ broken Pontiac so that I could take it for a spin. They responded harshly to my attempt at unlicensed driving, by taking away the thing that meant the most to me — my Diamond Back. The term of punishment was unthinkable — an entire six months — so I did what anyone would have done and took the bike out when my parents weren’t around, putting it back in its basement dungeon when I was done. As luck (or lack thereof) would have it, my dad noticed the thick, red clay splattered all over its black frame, and compounded my sentence by an additional three months, removing the front wheel and locking it up. As if to add insult to injury, the aluminum wheel was prominently displayed a the glass-doored closet in our garage; a constant reminder of my transgressions.
When I went off to college my trusty Outlook became my primary form of transportation, but four years of outdoor storage, post party crashes, and general neglect took their toll. One day in the summer of 2000 — the summer after I graduated — I gazed wistfully at my old friend as I loaded my belongings into a moving truck. The once straight handle bars were bent. The black paint was faded. One of the brake cables had finally snapped. Sadly, I passed it off to a friend who needed a bicycle for his commute to work.
I’ve often thought about my days bashing through the muddy Northern Virginia woods in the years that have passed since, but I never did get another mountain bike. Things have a funny way of working out though. It turns out that my girlfriend had a 1992 Diamond Back Outlook when she was a kid, too. Then one day, someone left a bike in the ivy patch across the street, and none of the neighbors knew whose it was or where it had come from. It was none other than an early 90s Diamond Back Outlook. I was flooded with happy memories of my days spent exploring muddy trails on my old Outlook, and it seems they’re destined to return with the winter rains.