I never actually owned a Big Wheel of my own, which is a crime in itself. However, our neighbors’ daughter, who was 6 years my senior, would sometimes let me play with hers. Plus, there were other kids in the neighborhood who had their own Big Wheels and would let me ride them now and again.
There’s really not a whole lot you can say about the actual product. It was made almost completely of primary-color plastic, had one of the most uncomfortable seats imaginable (especially when you were jouncing along on rough pavement), was nearly impossible to peddle if you were one of those unlucky “growth spurt” victims, and should have probably been targeted by Ralph Nader for its “unsafe at any speeds” ability to flip, skid, roll, or in some other way bounce you in violent and painful ways if you use the handbrake at the wrong moment. And, let’s be honest, nearly every moment was a “wrong” one when it came to the Big Wheel.
Then again, that handbrake action was what made the Big Wheel so awesome. If you figured out how to do it just right, you could yank the brake, lean into whichever way the trike started to pull, and send yourself spinning down the street, joyfully oblivious to surrounding friends, pets, or the random oncoming car. This was early roller coaster glee for those of us not yet tall enough to ride the real things.
True the Big Wheel could in no way outclass my Sweet Thunder, but it was definitely an integral part of growing for almost every child of the 70s and 80s. Sadly, the original company that produced Big Wheel went out of business in 2001, but a Cedar Rapids-based company picked up the trademark and re-launched the product in 2003. You can read up on the history here as well as see a couple of cool Big Wheel shots, including the one above.
Big Wheel Bonus
While searching for images for Big Wheel, photos of Tori Amos kept popping up. I couldn’t figure out why at first…then I remembered that she had a song called “Big Wheel” on her studio release, American Doll Posse. Here, then, is the video for “Big Wheel.” Sorry, no actual Big Wheels are shown in the video.