I AM SURROUNDED by suggestions that I really should be bicycling.
Our Patch Pros talked last week about preparing for RAGBRAI, our pal Chuck Offenburger plans to talk about it on Patch Monday, and a group of cancer survivors whose treatments took them to the brink of death are competing in the Race Across America.
If they can do it, what, pray tell, is holding me back?
Fear. Unadulterated fear. With good reason. More about that later.
I bought a bicycle, cheap, a few years ago. At midlife, I had convinced myself I was ready to mount a two-wheeled steed and attempt to relearn something I was never very good at in the first place.
It had 15 speeds and cost $55. That calculates to about $3.65 per gear. It seemed like a bargain that seemed too good to pass up at the time because it left plenty of money in the “Get Fit, Even If It Kills You” budget for antiseptic to treat scraped knees and anodyne to numb sore muscles.
I threw the pedal back to engage the brakes. It spun around like a top. In mid-turn, I attempted to dismount, a disastrous choice that only compounded the damage to my body, my clothing and my ego.
And a helmet. Definitely a helmet. Everyone who knows me says so, that the next head blow could be The One and that I shouldn't restrict my helmet-wearing to bicycle riding. So, it must be true.
I never bought the helmet. One spin around the yard, where the landing would presumably be soft, convinced me there had to be another way to get fit, even if it kills me. (Given my bicycle-riding history, I’m not being overly dramatic for the sake of a metaphor.)
So I gave the $55 bicycle away, to a kid who desperately wanted a bicycle, but whose family couldn’t afford to buy him one. So the money wasn’t wasted — only the dream.
As a young girl, I rode a bicycle that had been cobbled from two. It was a boys' bike. I’d like to say our family was ahead of its time and we were the original unisex bicycle pioneers, but the truth was, we were poor.
Envious yet stoic, I admired my friends’ pink bicycles with spangles dangling from the handlebars and baskets adorned with big plastic daisies. Surely, I’ll be forgiven for the fib that I rode a boys’ bike because a girl could do anything a boy could do. It did, after all, turn out to be true.
The bicycle represented freedom, a way off the farm and away from my six siblings to define myself outside their shadows. But then I turned 16, and the two-wheeled mode of transportation — and by this time, especially the bike of my childhood dreams with a dorky basket with flowers and spangles on the handlebars — held no appeal. The 390 V-8 in the garage, even if it was a practical station wagon that seated nine comfortably, was the only way to travel.
Bicycle riding was just another childhood memory until about 20 years ago, when friends suggested I join them on a ride on a fine summer day. They had a spare, and I thought it might evoke a nice memory, no longer embarrassed by my makeshift bike, but appreciative of the innovation hardship can foster.
I assumed – and within moments I knew how dangerous assumptions can be on two-wheeled contraptions – that those contraptions on the handlebars were gear-shifters. There was no need to worry about them, because I wouldn’t be going that fast after decades of driving where I wanted to go.
Clipping along at a good speed, I hit a T-intersection.
I threw the pedal back to engage the brakes. It spun around like a top.
In mid-turn, I attempted to dismount, a disastrous choice that only compounded the damage to my body, my clothing and my ego. The brakes, my friends told me too late, were controlled by those gizmos on the handlebars.
What's the best way for a novice – and by novice, we really mean first-time – bicycle rider to get in shape? Tell us below in comments.
I should have asked more questions before I agreed to be part of the folly.
Trouper that I am, I got back on the bike. When it came time to stop again, I gripped both of the thingamajobs on the handlebar with all my might. Any experienced bike rider knows what happened next:
End over end, head over heels. I walked the bike home.
The best part of the story occurred two days later, when a guy I knew stopped by and tried to sell me a life insurance annuity plan. He looked me up and down, did a mental calculation of the bandages, scrapes and bruises, and said:
“Looks like I got here just in time.”
I remain not against bike riding, but wary of it. Would anyone think it strange to see a middle-aged woman using training wheels?