John B Keane: Lucky few who had a bicycle of their own

Editor’s note: As regular readers of John B’s column will be aware, in recent months we have been reprinting his contributions to the Limerick Leader from 1971, pubished 44 years on to the very week. However, readers were told in late May of 1971 that John B was on holiday and that Out in the Open would appear on his return. The following column, first published several years before, appeared instead.

Editor’s note: As regular readers of John B’s column will be aware, in recent months we have been reprinting his contributions to the Limerick Leader from 1971, pubished 44 years on to the very week. However, readers were told in late May of 1971 that John B was on holiday and that Out in the Open would appear on his return. The following column, first published several years before, appeared instead.

IN days of yore, that is to say, around the time when I got my first notions to do a spot of dancing, the main problem was transport. In those days nobody, I repeat nobody of my age owned his own car and few were they who owned their own bicycles.

The accepted thing was to hire a hackney driver if one had the money. These could be troublesome, too, because they often drew the line at all-night dances, and if one failed to meet them at an appointed spot at an appointed time one was left behind. This wasn’t so bad in a place like Duagh or Abbeyfeale, where one was known and where a friend was always willing to share his bed for the night, unknown to his parents as he fondly believed.

During this particular time, the late teens as far as I can remember, I did not own my own bicycle. Most of my friends were in the same position. However, there were a few who had bikes of their own, and it never did any harm to be friends with these.

It wasn’t always easy to borrow a bike because, you will please to remember, this was during the Second World War and tyres and tubes were as valuable as motor car tyres are today. While it was not always possible to borrow a bike, it was generally easy enough to get a lift on the bar. Naturally enough, most fellows preferred to bar girls, too, but especially from dances. If I had a bike I would have been no different. When there was no other means of transport a bar on a bike was welcome. It had, unfortunately, many pitfalls.

There was, first of all, the danger that the owner of the bike would meet a good-looking girl at a dance. If she liked him he would be permitted to bar her home. This meant a long wait, depending upon the girl, for the original passenger. Secondly, if the owner of the bike was absent-minded one was left in the lurch unless another bar-less bicycle happened to be going in the right direction. This happened rarely, as any fellow with a hapworth of sense would always have a girl on the bar.

The third danger was that the owner of the bike might tire and ask the man on the bar to do his share of the pedalling. This was a pleasure if the bike owner was a light-weight, but if he was a heavy-weight it was sheer torture. Worse still, if he fell asleep on the bar one had to guide, pedal and hold on to the passenger all at the same time.

Then there was the danger that the owner of the bike was over-fond of liquor and might be intoxicated unknown to the man on the bar. I always remember to be sitting comfortably on the bar coming down Kilcara Hill, free-wheeling beautifully with a fresh wind fanning the face. Suddenly the ditch was staring me in the face and I yelled in terror at the top of my voice. There was no response from the peddler. He was as drunk as the ditch for which we were both heading.

Suddenly we made contact. I’ll always remember the picture of him sailing over my head, blissfully unaware, as he was to tell me later, that there was anything the matter. The doctor who gave me the three stitches told me how lucky I was. The driver got away without a scratch. He crashed several times after that but it was always the passenger who got hurt.

Perhaps the greatest thrill of all, however, was to be sitting on the bar of a bike coming down a hill when the driver announces carelessly that he has no brakes. There is no sensation that I know of to be compared with this. Suddenly one understands how airplane pilots without parachutes feel when the engine stalls. As the bike descends gathering speed, bends appear from nowhere at an astonishing rate. Ditches and hedges are missed by inches. Suddenly an open gate appears at the side of the roadway and the bike tears in. Now comes a most unnerving period. The driver loses control and the bike is on its own with its two passengers praying for it to stop. When it does one is unable to move. One stays paralysed for a long time afterwards.

Still, looking back now, there are few moments which can compete with barring a good-looking girl over an open road of a moonlight night. It’s better than driving a bicycle on your own any time.