Saturday, 17 August 2013 17:03

The Death Trails and the Peefee Bicycle

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It was the fall of 1955 and I was anticipating my first bicycle.  Most of my friends had either Schwinn (sold by Cartwright’s and Sebastian’s Firestone) or J.C. Higgens (Sold by Sears) single-speed bikes with heavy frames, coaster brakes and 26” balloon tires.  I prowled all over downtown Santa Fe, looking for the perfect bike, and I found it at Gerkin’s Bicycle Shop on Water Street.  It was made by British manufacturer Raleigh and, unlike the behemoth machines of my friends, it had a lightweight frame, skinny 27” tires, a 3-speed Sturmey Archer rear hub with the shifter on the handlebars and front and rear caliper hand brakes.  It also had front and rear fenders, front and rear lights powered by a generator, a down tube mounted pump and a leather saddle with a little bag full of tools underneath.  That bike was made for me and I begged my parents for it as my Christmas present.  Since it was considerably more expensive than the bikes everyone else rode, I was told to lower my sights and find one that was reasonably priced.  I did, but the anticipation became lukewarm.

Christmas morning arrived and I trudged down to the tree.  And there – with a red bow on the handlebars – was the Raleigh English Racer!  I don’t think I ever got a Christmas present before or since that took my breath away like that bike did.  I received a serious lecture from my dad about understanding that it required a lot of care and upkeep, that I was responsible for getting it licensed (Santa Fe had a bike license ordinance in those days and for 50 cents you got this cool little plate to attach to the rear fork) and, above all things, I was NOT to ride it in the dirt.  I assured him that I understood and spent the rest of the day taking it apart and putting it back together with the nifty little tool set.

Spring came and I rode that bike all over town.  I would put it in high gear and rocket down East Palace from my home on La Vereda, cruise around the Plaza, ride up College Street to Manhattan Street, down Delgado Street to Alameda and then put it into low gear for the stretch back up Palace.

The only downside was that my friends with the big bikes immediately branded mine a peefee bicycle.  The word peefee is unique to Santa Fe and its origins are from the nickname given to a slight, effeminate and very flamboyant waiter named Epifano who worked at the Mayflower Café in the 1930s.  The word came to mean weak, unmanly or timid.  To make matters worse, I was labeled as a peefee because I wouldn’t go with my friends to the local off-road bicycle course, the Death Trails.  Located between Don Gaspar and Galisteo near the powder house, the Trails were a series of hills, valleys and arroyos where kids had built jumps, banked curves and the like.  This was before Cordova Road was built and there were no houses out there – just open country.

As one might guess, it wasn’t very long before I made my first trip out to the Death Trails.  There were a lot of kids out there, both Hispano and Gringo, and what was most important was how well you could ride.  I figured that my 3-speed gears would give me an advantage, especially on the uphill parts.  I was wrong – that bike was a real dog off-road.  While I could ride fast on the flats and downhill parts, the skinny tires were worthless in the sandy arroyos and the bike would come to a halt almost immediately.  I would have to get off the bike, push it up the other side, and remount.  This led to hoots and catcalls, further cementing my reputation.  I was no longer a peefee – I was their king.  Thoroughly humiliated, I left and pedaled the long 3 miles home.

Now, for most people, that would have been the end of it.  But it was at this point that all reason and promises to my father went right out the window.  I had noticed that the really good riders had stripped their bikes of all unnecessary hardware, and I figured that if I did the same my bike would be much lighter and more nimble.  So a couple of days later, after my dad left for work, I got out my little set of tools and went to work.  Off came the fenders, the chain guard, the generator, the lights, the pump and the toolbag.  When I finished, I was certain that I could reclaim my manhood and off I went.

The bike certainly was faster and by pedaling insanely, I could ride down a hill into the arroyo sand where momentum would carry me across to the uphill side without dismounting.  After spending some time getting the feel of things, I headed over to the more technical part and decided to try the jumps.  The good riders could get 2 or 3 feet in the air and I figured that I could do at least that.  I waited in line for my turn and when it came I rode for the jump as fast as I could.  I catapulted into the air, came down on the front wheel and the bike simply quit working.  After I picked myself up from a major faceplant I got the bike and tried to figure out what was wrong with it.  There was plenty wrong with it – I had broken the frame where the top tube connects to the handlebar headset.  Realizing that I was still king of the peefees, I pushed the bike home, arriving an hour after I was supposed to be there.  My parents had no idea where I was and I was in big trouble on so many levels.  Coming home late – check.  Riding way out Galisteo Street – check.  Dismantling my bike – check.  Riding in the dirt – check.  Breaking my bike – check and check.  I spent the next two weeks under house arrest.

After my dad cooled down, we took the bike back to Gerkin’s to see if it could be repaired.  Mr. Gerkin was able to braze the broken frame back together, but the bike was never the same.  It would pull to the left instead of going straight and the front brake would shudder whenever it was used.  The last time I rode it was in the fall before school began.  It wasn’t until 30 years later that I discovered today’s mountain bikes and learned to ride in the dirt.

Peefee no more.

--Mike Lord

Read 2091 times Last modified on Friday, 03 August 2018 15:39
Mike Lord

4th generation Santa Fe Gringo.

5 comments

  • Comment Link Jerry Kerr Tuesday, 16 June 2015 00:48 posted by Jerry Kerr

    Great story! I had a Raleigh much like yours and did damage to it riding on the tank trails near between our house and Fort Holabird. We had one killer drop that ended in an extreme curve. I missed the curve and slammed into a drainage ditch.

  • Comment Link Allan MacGillivray III Friday, 23 August 2013 19:50 posted by Allan MacGillivray III

    Since we live two blocks from death trails on a dirt road Our bikes became, "death trail" ready about a month after the first scratch regardless of the bicycle brand.

  • Comment Link Polly Jackson Sunday, 18 August 2013 16:11 posted by Polly Jackson

    OMG, this was so funny (as were the comments)!! I, too, remember the word "peefee" and have used it forever until I grew up (ha) and never knew where it came from!
    I had a red Schwinn and named it Nixanna. It got stolen once right from the bike rack (we didn't lock our bikes, or our Schwinn's at least, back then). The girl who stole it painted half of it blue and wrote (in nail polish) THIS IS MINE. I was in the sixth grade, but I knew my bike so I stole it back from her. My Dad took the words and blue paint off, too.
    I haven't thought of that bike in 40 years, probably. Thanks for the laughs and good memories.

  • Comment Link Arthur Scott Sunday, 18 August 2013 15:20 posted by Arthur Scott

    Great story! Takes me back to those years. "Peefee" is a very derogatory term to some of us. I think the "P word" would be more appropriate!

    My first was the ultimate in peefeeness, a girl's bike. A hand-me-down of my sister's bike resurrected from the basement. After several crying spells caused by my neighborhood buddies, I learned that removing the basket and fenders and attaching a playing card to the front fork with a clothes pin (motorcycle sound)took away many feminine characteristics. However, it did on a few occasions somewhat teach me the art of self defense. These were war years and we had to make do with what was available.

    Gears were a bit more primitive. It was known that if you can't peddle up the hill, get off and walk pushing the bike up.

  • Comment Link Jim Baca Saturday, 17 August 2013 17:33 posted by Jim Baca

    I love this story, Mike! My first was a maroon Schwinn. I currently own a Raleigh c40 hybrid. I play racquetball and we have a certain soft shot that we refer to as a "peefee" shot. Thanks for posting this!

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