Doni’s Best Deal on Two Wheels: A Little Red Free Spirit

Sisters (left to right) Doni, Jaimie and Shelly Chamberlain try out their new wheels in Vancouver, British Columbia, some time between 1960 and 1961.

My first bike was a shiny, sturdy trike with handlebar streamers. In 1961, it joined my twin’s bike and younger sister’s Radio Flyer wagon in a shipped wooden crate that followed the family during our relocation from Canada to Redding.

By the time I was a third-grader at Cypress Elementary I’d graduated to a Shasta-Lake-blue Schwinn with skinny tires that I wheeled around my neighborhood in Redding’s downtown core. I could park my bike along with other kids’ bikes outside Woolworth’s or Glover’s Toy Store where they’d wait for us until it was time to head home. Bike lock was not even in our vocabulary.

My blue Schwinn went the way of other bygone childhood things. I grew up and beyond my Buster Browns-powered Schwinn to gas-guzzling cars.

Despite my long bike separation, I retained my bike fantasies. In my fantasy, there are no cars or trucks to potentially sideswipe bicyclists. My bike fantasy looked more like one of those black-and-white photos of a 16-year-old girl riding her bike through the French countryside. A baguette periscopes from the front basket. Throw in a bottle of wine, too. (Changed my mind. She’s 21.)

In February I moved into my house in the Garden Tract, a place I adore for its huge shade trees and total Mayberryesque feeling. It’s a place with such a strong identity that its street names also boast a last name: Garden Tract. People of all ages walk and even roller blade. Proud new papas carefully push strollers as if they contain bundles of dynamite while new mamas walk gingerly beside them (welcome, adorable baby Conner!). Lots of people ride bikes in this neighborhood.

My inspiration to get a bike came during the annual Garden Tract Yard Sale, when I glanced next door at Eloise and her daughter’s wares and noticed a bike propped up among their sale items. I wandered over for a look and liked what I saw.

I loved the bike at first because it was red. And I loved it even more when I learned it was only $10. Sold. I’d just bought myself a classic Free Spirit.

My Free Spirit fit nicely in the back of my Prius for its journey to Bikes Etc., the neighborhood bike shop, to replace the flat tires and do a little tune-up.

There, they guys hoisted my Free Spirit up onto a stand so they could get a better look. The said my bike was in good condition. He even pointed out a place on the bike where it said 1972.

Gosh, I was 16 then.

My Free Spirit got new tubes and tires and was pronounced a fine bike that would ride more like a $300 bike (whatever that means). Not bad for a $10 initial investment and a $62 tune-up.

Once home, I outfitted my Free Spirit with a basket and bell. I rode up and down my Garden Tract street, and laughed when I realized that somehow I must have put the bell on wrong, because every time I went over the slightest bump the bell did this sort of shaken ding. Ding-a-ding. Ding. Ding-a ding-a-ding. I felt like I should be standing by a brass bucket passing out candy canes.

Because I’m nervous about riding my bike next to traffic, I’ll practice more in my neighborhood before I venture onto busy streets. Until then, listen for the ding of a bell, and you might see a slightly-older than middle-aged woman riding around the Garden Tract on a bike with a basket that holds a baguette. And maybe a bottle of wine. Or two.

And if you squint hard, cock your head a little to the right and use your imagination, that woman may resemble – just for a second – a 16-year-old French girl.

A free spirit, you might say.

Click here to read more from Day 1 of A News Cafe’s “Taken By Two Wheels.”

Independent online journalist Doni Greenberg founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Greenberg was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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15 Responses

  1. Avatar Brandon says:

    I recently bought a bike at a neighborhood yard sale, too – for $10. It's really, really ugly though. Brown with gold pinstripes and gold spray painted wheels. It's rusty, too. And the handlebars are bent. But I love it! We call it "the beater" and it's fun to cruise around the neighborhood! You have to love a $10 bike!!

  2. Avatar Grammalyn says:

    Growing up in a hilly area in San Francisco, I never learned to ride a bike. That was my goal for my 50th birthday, which came and went. Recently Jack bought my fuschia colored bike for $25 at a thrift shop, and once the heat dies down again I will resume my practicing. I'm trying to visualize myself riding all around my neighborhood, but I'm still fearful of falling. I WILL master this! Don't believe what you hear about old dogs and new tricks.

    • I hear ya, but after reading today's inspirational story about Earl Bydalek by Candace Brown, I'm telling myself that if he, at 81 years old, can ride a bike for miles and miles, then so can I. 🙂

      But good luck and ride safely.

  3. Avatar shelly shively says:

    Sweet bike story, Doni. What fondness I have for the good times of cruising around on that trike, with those streamers flying! Not such great memories with the Schwinn, as it was much too big a bike…(couldn't even touch my toes to the ground) for learning to ride two wheel. Maybe my being an inch shorter made this a more profound memory than of parking it at Glover's & Woolworth's. :-/ I can join you for rides in the Garden Tract, now that my feet touch can touch the ground 😉

  4. Avatar Karen C says:

    When sitting on the seat, are your feet supposed to touch the ground?

  5. Oh, Doni, looks like we've got a budding cyclist on our hands. That red bike looks like just the right amount of power and sass!

  6. Avatar Terry says:

    I love your article and your new bike, Doni! What fun! (and I love the humor, too, being a "middle-aged" woman myself)

    My favorite memory of childhood was receiving my first Big bike when I was around eleven. I'd been riding my brother's old bike with the crossbar, in a time when "girls wore dresses". What a treat to have a "ladies" bike!

    I grew up in a small town back east. The only way we kids could travel a good distance (2 miles one way to Girl Scouts) was by bike. I rode that bike for miles and miles and miles, and even took it to college with me. What a great bike that was!

    Thanks for the encouraging articles. Brought back great memories, and encouraged me to start thinking about biking again.

  7. Avatar rmv says:

    Nice article Doni! 🙂

    I think we ALL can remember those first bike days? 🙂

    To add to that ding of a bell, and seeing a middle aged lady

    riding, might i add the words Beautiful, and Intelligent? 🙂

    RIDE ON !!! 🙂

    GOD BLESS AMERICA (and our children)!! 🙂

  8. Avatar david kerr says:

    Donni Greenberg was the guest on the Doug Craig radio show on Sunday. To listen to a podcast, go to
    Right click the 9/11 show to download

  9. Avatar Barbara says:

    Thanks for another great read. I love your stories, be it bikes, chickens or somewhere in between!!

  10. Avatar Sara says:

    May that smile never leave your face while riding your bike! The world would be a happier place with more people on bikes. Thanks for the great read…and welcome to the club!

  11. Avatar pmarshall says:

    Love that you are doing that, Doni. Maybe I should bring out my old, rusted bike from the basement. The spirit is willing, but, yes, it may be too old and "rusted" (me, I mean). Good riding!