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Hal's first and second bikes

Royce Union and Black Phantom


This article first appeared in the Summer 1998 edition of the Bicycle Habitat newsletter.


My First and Second Bicycles

by Hal Ruzal

My first bicycle was a red Royce Union 20" wheel model purchased from Times Square Stores in Brooklyn when I was five. I still remember by father picking out the model and being upset because the bicycle he purchased was not a floor model but a disassembled model in the box. We bought the bicycle in the evening and the assembly department at Times Square Stores (a high school kid who came in for two hours after classes) had gone home for the day. My father was too busy to come back the next day for an assembled bicycle and the salesman refused to sell him the floor model, claiming he have nothing to show until 3:30 the next afternoon if he did.

In any event, my grandfather, a shop foreman and excellent mechanic, volunteered to assemble the bicycle. It was ready that evening, but I couldn't see the assembly process because it was past my bedtime. I do remember by grandfather yelling at my father because of the bike's "lousy quality." It's funny because 40 years have gone by and Royce Unions still have "lousy quality."

The next morning I was ready to ride. Larry, the kid next door, made fun of me because by bike had training wheels and only sissies rode bikes with training wheels. That afternoon, I had my grandfather remove the offending wheels. I figured that if Larry (who was also two years older) could ride a bicycle without training wheels, then so could I. I asked Ricky (a kid from down the street) to show me how to ride. He showed me how to set the pedals parallel to the ground and push off, then pedal.

I quickly became a good cyclist on the Royce Union, which I nicknamed the Royal Onion (mostly because I wasn't a very good reader). After a little more than three years the Royal Onion fell apart. The coaster brake shoes wore out and all the spokes loosened up. It was time to retire my first bike and get another.

My father bought me a new Ross one-speed with a 21" frame and 26" wheels that I was supposed to "grow into," although I was barely nine years old. I could barely touch the pedals even with the saddle all the way down. When my grandfather saw the bike, he started screaming -- the bike was too big for me and of too poor quality for him. He made my father take the Ross back and I received, instead, a Schwinn Black Phantom. The Schwinn frame was much lower to the ground so I was actually able to ride the bike.

I made my first long ride (around Prospect Park, around Greenwood Cemetery, and all the way to Coney Island via the Ocean Parkway bike path) on that Black Phantom. I remember spending hours shining the chrome and cleaning the whitewall tires until they sparkled. I added raccoon tails to the rear of the bike, streamers to the handlebar grips, and a set of Jolly Roger flags for the handlebars.

That Black Phantom was really stylin'.