Learning to Ride

“It’s just like riding a bike!” It’s a colloquialism meant to suggest that whatever “it” is, it’s so easy, any old fool can do it. It’s a colloquialism I hate, because it implies I’m the most foolish and inept of old fools in any given set of old fools. Because, why? Well, here’s a secret:

I can’t ride a bike.

this is not a Duchamp knock-off... a bike refurbishing moment
this is not a Duchamp knock-off… a bike refurbishing moment

Well, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. In theory, perhaps more than practice, I CAN ride a bike, though it’s been 10 years since I’ve been on one that isn’t stable, stationary and in a spin class.

I was late to bike riding. My parents gave me a neat, new purple 2-wheeler with trainers one Christmas, probably when I was about 4, with presumably high hopes that one day, I’d ride my bike to swim practice. I was excessively excited about the white basket on the front and the handle bar’s streamers. I rode it once. Maybe twice. It was eventually sent up to Canada for one of my younger cousins, who couldn’t believe it wasn’t brand new.

It wasn’t until I was 16 that I legitimately learned to ride a bike… but I could only ride straight, and I had to start by sorta scooting on one foot until I built up some momentum to get both feet on the pedals. Then I’d half fall off and half to start again. It was awkward and nonathletic. I couldn’t turn around, so when I came to the end of the street, I had to step off my bike and waddle it the 180 degrees it needed to turn so I could go back to where I came from. And going down hill sent me into a slight panic.

But those (many) handicaps didn’t stop me from riding the (paved, straight) bike path 20 miles every weekend.

The last time I rode a bike was summer 2004. That was the year I had a crush on an upper classman named Jake. He was a competitive cyclist from the West Coast who liked to study with me for our French exams. Our Professor compared us to Peanut Butter and Chocolate. I’m not sure Jake was as amused by that as I was, and one might assume the 10 years of neglect my bike has seen is a fairly good indication of how that little “romance” fared. My lapse in riding had nothing to do with Jake, but rather a Provincial Holiday bike ride through Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It was traumatizing.

Then this summer, after declining several invitations to ride borough to borough seeking art, I booked tickets to Amsterdam. How could I go to the bike-riding capital of Europe, where pedaling along the canal houses is on the “Must-Do” list of any traveler, and NOT partake?

I had 3 months to get ready. I went a hunt for the bike that had seen better days. The tires were flat. I needed new tubes. The dust was so thick I had forgotten the frame was really a forest green, not gray. The padding in my helmet had rotted out. The initial investment to refurbish was more than I had expected.

But upgraded and with 10 years of spin classes under my belt I was ready to beat my teenage shortcoming.

The good news is I haven’t fallen off yet. I’ve learned to turn around in a circle. I can start without the awkward scoot-fall-scoot. I only start a mild panic when the gradient points down. I don’t know I’ll feel confident enough to ride in a city where bikers ride like motorists in cars, aggressively, but at least now I can say “It’s just like riding a bike,” and mean it.

New helmet (NY Pride). revamped bike. Let's get riding.
New helmet (NY Pride). revamped bike. Let’s get riding.

 

 

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