The Bike Test was a right-of-passage for ten-year-olds in our family. Mom got me set up in her upstairs sewing room. I lined up three sharpened pencils and an eraser and she placed the test face-down on the table in front of me. I wasn’t allowed to flip it over until she left the room and I couldn’t leave the room until I finished the test. I waited while she fetched me a glass of water. I imagined flunking the exam and being forced to ride my old tricycle until I was 18. The trike was too small of course, it was a silly thought, but it had me terrified. Mom left, I took a deep breath and flipped over the exam.
“Here is your BIKE TEST. There are three (3) parts. Part One (1) has 20 questions. They are true and false. Each question counts for one (1) point. Part Two (2) has five (5) questions but one of these has two (2) parts. Therefore part two (2) will count for thirty (30) points altogether. Part Three (3) has five (5) questions. Here you will explain exactly what you would do. This part is worth ten (10) points for each question. You need a score of 75 to pass this test. You will not be allowed to talk while doing this test and no answers will be given so don’t ask. GOOD LUCK!”
Dad put the number in parentheses after the spelled-out number because that’s what attorneys do. This was that serious. We didn’t cheat. David took the test a full year and a half before me and while I was anxious for his test results, it didn’t occur to me at age 8 ½ to ask him the questions while they were still fresh in his mind. By the time it did occur to me to ask, he’d already been biking on the road for over a year and he wasn’t going to help me cheat my way to that privilege.
I picked up a pencil and worked my way through the True and False section. Pretty simple. You should not have more than one person on a bike. Nobody should ride on the handle bars. You must use hand signals. A bike should be checked to see if it needs fixing. Car drivers will not watch out for bikers. I guessed on only three of them. I didn’t know if state law said bikes could not drive on the sidewalk of a business district. I didn’t know what a business district was. I didn’t know if a bike driver had to give a spoken out loud signal before passing a person. And I wasn’t sure if a bike driver could “hitch” onto a truck if it is traveling under the speed limit.
I moved on to the next section.
“Q. My friend and I are riding our bikes. My friend is going all over the road. I see a car coming towards us. My friend goes on the left side of the road. What will I do? (Explain clearly.)”
I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pant legs, took a deep breath, and picked up the pencil again. This question was worth 5 points. What if I mixed up my lefts and rights?
I skipped ahead . “Q. I am going for a ride on my bike. I get close to the end of our driveway and look back. I see my little brother running after me. I tell him to go home but he doesn't listen or obey me. What will I do?” Clearly no matter how badly I wanted to leave, I'd need to take him back to the house, and have one of the bigger kids or Mom watch him. “Whew! I know I got this one right,” I thought to myself, confidence partially restored.
“Q. I am riding my bike and my pant leg gets stuck in the chain. I am just going over the bridge. What will I do?” These questions were hard.
We lived on a country road, between a bridge over a small creek on one side and railroad tracks not far on the other side of our driveway. Danger lurked everywhere and cars occasionally sped by with no concern for little children who might be playing on the road. We could only bike half-way down the driveway until we were in second grade, and then in fourth grade, if we passed the bike test, we'd be able to handle the responsibilities of biking on the road.
It made perfect sense to Dad that we were allowed and even required to drive the tractor through the woods, operate the chain saw, butcher chickens, and milk cows before we reached age 10. To his way of thinking, we'd appreciate the responsibility of adult tasks and would be careful and alert; whereas, we might not be as responsible on our bikes, especially with peer pressure from our school friends who might not follow safe biking procedures.
In the sewing room I took a quick look over my test to make sure I hadn’t skipped any questions, I gulped down the rest of the water, let out a nervous sigh, and brought the completed test downstairs to Mom. I spent the afternoon worrying about failing the test, hanging out with the dog, wishing I could take another try, and gazing longingly at the road and wondering if I’d ever get to feel it under my tires.
Dad delivered the news of my passing score at dinner: Ninety-three! Everyone dashed outside to watch me take my first proud ride down the road. The stress of the sewing room earlier in the day was already forgotten. I sat tall in the banana seat and the streamers flowed gracefully from either end of the handle bars as I pedaled away, a big girl.