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I found a picture of a bike just like one of my first. I was reminded of how awful it really was.

 

jack_rabbit_1_blowup

 

 

I didn’t even remember the “Jackrabbit” part. I think that stylish little nameplate was long-gone by the time I got mine in about 1978. The one in this picture has a springy saddle and a longer seatpost. Mine wasn’t quite that dorky.

That bike overwhelmed me with excitement when I first saw it. It looked just like one of the Yamaha dirt bikes of the time. I envisioned taking it off of some sweet jumps.

Yeah. Not so much.

The bike must have weighed about 45 pounds — though it might as well have been a ton. It was a roll-around-the-block bike, not a jumping bike — I soon found out.

I kept it for years. When I was eleven or so, it occurred to me that the springer fork was likely more for show than go. I took it off and attached the wheel to the fork itself. That exercise introduced me to the importance of geometry in bicycles. It went from merely tippy to just plain wobbly. I put the springer fork back.

I’d stare at that bike as it sat in my room through my insomniac nights, wondering if it really needed that metal chain-guard. I’d wonder about the value of fenders in arid Phoenix. I’d imagine a better material for a bicycle than its mild, heavy steel. I’d dream of replacing all the components with lightweight aluminum, only to decide it was never going to get any better.

That bike taught me a few things.

One: A lot of what we see in any product is just marketing flash. All the bikes ridden by the cool BMX kids at the time had nothing extra on them. A frame and a couple wheels. Murray had taken their outdated design and “freshened” it by throwing stuff at it that made it perform worse. Later, they would start producing bikes that were only a frame and wheels. Damn those retooling costs!

Two: You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, nor a hot freestyle bike from a Murray BMX. My dad had a saying: “Western Auto Special.” He’d say that in response to anyone who thought fancy floor mats, chrome-tipped exhausts, and fuzzy seat covers turned their Gremlin into a Cadillac. It was good money after bad. Let the sow’s ear remain a sow’s ear, and appreciate it for what it is.

Anyway, by the time I was 13 or so I was getting way too big for that little Murray BMX. For my birthday I got a Raleigh ten-speed, which I soon broke in many and diverse ways. Then, a series of Schwinn mountain bikes, each of which broke in ever more fascinating ways. I think the last bike I broke was a ProFlex 754.

Well, at least the Murray didn’t break. It had that going for it.

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