Back in the Fifties there were basically three ways of getting around – foot, bus or cycle.
Cars were a rarity and even though were were one of the fortunate few to own a car, it was generally only used for “special occasions” such as goint to Mass or going for a Sunday Drive.
Walking was the preferred method and as a child it was perfectly normal to walk miles to the shops and back. A local “grown up” girl (she was probably nine or ten but was in a “big class”) used to call for me and a group of us would walk the mile or so to school. At lunchtime we would get the bus home and back. There was a special lunchtime fare for children of one penny on the buses. I can’t remember the normal fare but it was probably three or four pennies.
After graduating to Primary School, the distance was too far to walk so I had to use two bus routes. One route was to Rathgar where I would change buses and catch the next one to Milltown while the other meant a change of buses in Terenure to get to Churchtown. Either option meant a long walk at the far end. It was decided it was time I cycled.
I was already a proficient cyclist having taught myself in the back garden. I was given my brother’s old bike and sent off to school on it.
Cycling wasn’t without hazards. One was tram-lines. Trams had ceased operation before I was born but many of the tramlines remained as a nasty trap for the cyclist. If your wheel dropped into a tram-line there was no way you weren’t going to fall on your ear in the middle of the road.
There other two hazards were punctures and the chain. Punctures were quite common and most cyclists carried a puncture repair kit, usually in a little saddle bag. The chain was another matter. For some reason I had a lot of chain problems. Usually I would be accelerating, standing on the pedals when the chain would suddenly come off. This was extremely painful as I usually cracked my ankle in the process and usually tumbled into the road as well. I would then have to upend the bike and replace the chain which meant I ended up covered in black oil up to my wrists. Teachers got used to this as I turned up late and dirty, with bloody knees and ankles and would just send me off to the toilets to clean myself up.
One day I was brought into Rathmines to buy myself a new bike. It cost £16/12/6 (sixteen pounds, twelve shillings and sixpence – around €450 in today’s money). It was a beauty as it had three speeds (the famous Sturmey Archer) and a dynamo. The only problem with it was that the odd time I wouldn’t change gears properly, it was go into neutral suddenly and I would crack my ankle and fall off again.
Roads were very different in the Fifties and Sixties. Cars were a bit of a luxury so there weren’t that many around. You were far more likely to be run down by a mob of girls cycling to work in Terenure Laundry or by a messenger boy on his shop bicycle with the large basket in front and the shop name on a panel under the cross-bar. Road surfaces tended to be a little hazardous in places too as a lot of roads were made of huge concrete slabs which either cracked or became uneven – another trap like the tram-lines.
One of my favourite tricks on the way to school was to find a milk float. These were battery driven miniature lorries carrying crates of milk bottles for the morning deliveries. The trick was to cycle up behind the float and grab the back for a free ride. Some drivers would yell at you, some didn’t notice but most were used to it. Most milk-floats picked up a couple of cyclists on their journeys as main the dairy was not far from the school.
Brought a smile to this old 'un, just thinking of the hysterical fit of the vapours that today's hi-vis jacketed council Elf'n'Safety Oberscharführers would have at the sight of a milk-float trailing a schoolboy or two.
Elf'n'Safety weren't invented back then and we were all fine. A few cuts and bruises were just an ordinary part of growing up. You don't appreciate electricity until you have stuck your finger in a socket.
In my schoolboy cycling days, when the gears unexpectedly leapt into neutral, my developing spheres would often crash painfully onto the crossbar – on that scale, a merely cracked ankle would bring far fewer tears to the eyes or fears for future fertility.
Ah yes. I remember those [very] painful experiences. It was usually the saddle that did the damage.
In the country side I grew up in, a tractor with a trailer was a useful tow. Tractors then seemed to have a top speed of about 20 mph. Ideal. As they passed you, a quick burst of speed and you could latch on to the back of the trailer. 20 mph was a reasonable speed on a bike.
A bike could hold a few friends. One on handlebars, one on crossbar, and one or two on the rear carrier.
Getting a ride on a crossbar was no fun. My legs were always numb after.
No tram tracks here in the seventies at least but a rail track in the road snagged me one day. Went for a fair way in the damn thing but it won in the end and arse over tit was the result and I managed to take down a cycling companion who may have been laughing at me for getting stuck.
Weird thing though the in concrete rail tracks were legion in the shipyard and in eighteen years of riding ones bike to and from the escape hatch aka shipyard gates I never got stuck in any of them. Happy days.
The trick was a simple zigzag across the rails. I presume the problem has risen from the grave again what with all these street trams every city seems to want?
If I remember correctly, electric milk floats ran at about 12 mph. An ideal speed for an attached cyclist
Speed wasn't the issue. It was the ability to travel without any effort, especially uphill. And if I was late for school [which I nearly always was] then a slow milkman was a grand excuse. It wasn't as crazy an excuse as some I dreamt up.