*"Life is like a 10-speed bicycle.Most of us have gears we never use."
— Charles M. Schulz
There are two kinds of people in the world: those who know how to ride a bike and those who don't.
I learned to ride my mom's bike when I was four. This is the single athletic feat of my life that I can claim as purely my own. I wanted it bad, so I taught myself. Standing on the pedals because I couldn't reach the seat, I pedaled and fell until I didn't fall anymore.
Riding a bike meant freedom. It also meant not having to walk every where. I come from the same genetic stock as Lech Walesa who once said: "I'm lazy. But it's the lazy people who invented the wheel and the bicycle because they didn't like walking or carrying things." (Hey, don't knock his philosophy of life; after all, he did win the Nobel Peace Prize.)
Lately, I'm a little freaked out by the wild packs of bikers that seem to be taking over the streets in their obscenely tight padded shorts and moisture-wicking jerseys. These Lance Armstrong wannabees are in a fight-to-the-death struggle with the internal-combustion engine. I was taught that cyclists are have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists when on public thoroughfares, but these road warriors are heedless of the rules. They know that when push comes to shove, the motorist will be blamed for any accident, so between March and November I live in fear that one of these
whack-jobs avid cyclists is going to jut in front of my car and be squashed like a bug.
Given the tension between bikers and drivers, it's no surprise that the history of the bicycle roughly parallels the development of the automobile. This may also explain why my love affair with the bike came to an abrupt halt on my sixteenth birthday, when I got my driver's license. (Now would be a good time to refer back to the Walesa quote.) Even so, I have never truly lost the joy of biking, although helmets have put a real damper on that whole wind in your hair thing.
Several years ago, my mother-in-law gave me her old bicycle, a comfort bike that lives up to its name, complete with a bell and the modern equivalent of a basket. Through no fault of her own, my bike and I have a fickle relationship. Sometimes she and I go steady, and other times I'll take her on a date and not call again until the next summer.
Part of the problem is my kids. Only half of them know how to ride, so when it comes to getting the family from Point A to Point B, we've mostly relied on the minivan.
At six, my daughter decided to learn to ride her bike, and after hours of tears and yelling, succeeded in forcing her body to master the machine — in one day. Her twin brother is still a non rider at 17. My middle boy is a cautious, by-the-book kind of guy who approached learning to ride a bike like a military general plans and executes a week-long siege. He strapped on all his safety gear every day, practiced for a reasonable length of time, then put the bike away, only to make a fresh start each morning until he had won the war.
My youngest, the "me too" of our family, really wanted to follow in By-the-book's footsteps, but wasn't quite ready. He gave up out of frustration or humiliation or both and hasn't wanted to try again for three summers. Yesterday he announced he was ready, so tonight after dinner, we gave it a shot. He has matured both physically and mentally over these three years, and after just a half hour or so of trying, he is so close he can practically taste it. He started getting skittish, though, so rather than risk another (perceived) failure, I told him he was doing great and that we would try again tomorrow. He was simultaneously a little proud of himself and relieved to pause his efforts. As he closed the shed, his parting shot echoed Mark Twain, who said:
"Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live."
This summer, we (and by we, I mean me) are trying to be a little leaner and greener. We are trying to fool our bodies into fitness by doing "fun" physical activities without referring to them as exercise. The old minivan is less than 25 miles away from hitting the 100K-mile mark. The mom is less than 18 months away from hitting the big 5-0. We all have to make some sacrifices to keep things running. I'm hoping we'll find a few answers in our two wheelers.
When did you learn to ride a bike? Did it come naturally, or only after a struggle? Click here to tell me your story or to speak your peace about the Critical Mass movement.