Let’s Go Ride a Bike
It’s just like… say, riding a bike. Maybe because it IS riding a bike. I got good bikes this year after forgetting about bikes for a long time. My last involvement with bikes was when the kids were small. That might also be the last time I was out riding bikes. We used to have family rides, when my wife worked weekend shifts and I had all three on my hands. Because the youngest was still small, we had a “tag-along” bike, the kind with only one wheel that you bolted on to the back of your regular bike so you didn’t have to worry where your kid was. My youngest liked that a lot, and got the baby-of-the-family benefit of not really having to peddle (something her sisters said was just another example of being spoiled). At our half-way point, we would stop and picnic on sandwiches in a backpack and a bottle of cola to pass around. We learned fairly quickly that the youngest maybe had to drink last for logistical reasons. She became famous for what we called “baby backwash”, a phenomenon that can happen to a shared bottle of anything when the people drinking are also eating at the same time. Thing is, when she realized that her drinking was resulting in “baby backwash” she seemed to take joy in doing the same thing consciously.
First observation about bikes: not to scoff at innovation. The bikes now are WAAAAAAY better than the bikes of twenty years ago. They have come a long way. They are light, easy to ride, and everything seems to work really well. Even the helmets now come with magnetic clips that won’t accidentally pinch the skin under your chin. The other thing I would say is that I forgot how much fun bike riding is.
There were a few clumsy decades in there. The banana seat bikes were never a great idea, hand brakes and gears always seemed to be off, and ten speeds were an ergonomic nightmare because they forced you to ride practically upside-down. Then there were mountain bikes for offroad. Those bikes made me miss the simple bikes we had as kids that were one speed with back-pedal brakes. It’s as if everybody forgot that bikes should actually be comfortable for regular riding on a city street. Finally bikes seem to have hit a happy medium, where the design just seems to work, all round. Of course, with quality comes price. I was surprised at the price point of the upper-end bikes I looked at. There are levels to serve the aficionado that I didn’t realize could even exist. A bike is much more than just a bike. It is a list of choices and for the truly discerning, the price goes up. I don’t think I will ever require THAT kind of bike, ever.
I just went out for a ride with my wife, which was comical. She comes from a town which on account of its steep incline and urban density, was not amenable to riding bikes. Too dangerous. There was only room for a car going one direction on most of the old town streets, and people drive like maniacs there on the best of days. Also, the strict gender codes there frowned on girls riding bikes, too unladylike. So now I get to laugh at her, because she is for now at least, a bit scared and a bit of a clumsy rider. Still, she likes it. So do I. There are many reasons to like riding a bike. It’s a great way to get some fresh air while travelling far. It’s also great transportation, depending on meat power rather than gas. Doesn’t cost you any insurance, and you can ride in places cars cannot. But mostly bikes are just FUN. I forgot how much fun they are.
When we were kids, they were freedom. Your bike meant you didn’t need to wait around to be old enough for a driver’s license. We rode for twenty miles and more in a day without batting an eyelid. They didn’t have helmets back then. We had our few requisite accidents for sure. I can recall my worst, impacting with a light standard. It was my own fault. I was desperately smitten with a girl in my fifth-grade class who had the most amazing brown eyes. I would never dare talk to her, but when I found out where she lived, (on a steep hill) I spent a copious amount of time riding up and down the hill trying to look cool, and hoping she would look out the window and see me. Of course, too much attention to whether I was being seen, is what landed me in collision with the lamp post. My bike was a wreck and I had road rash on my arms and legs that would make a biker blush. I was pretty banged up, but I recall my parents taped up my head with hockey tape. Brush cuts being the order of the day, nobody needed to shave my head to see the wound, but this home-made approach seemed to do the trick, and you can still see the scars if my hair is cut short enough. Nobody seemed to think of going to the hospital in those days. They just thought kids were teflon and I suppose in some ways, we thought so too.
Bikes had a lot of other phenomenon attached to them. There was the old hockey card trick where you would attach a hockey card with a clothespin so that your bike sounded cool like a motorcycle. We generally thought carry baskets and streamers were too girly. I never did figure out the wiener bar issue, why girls’ frames join up way down and boys, straight across. We called it the wiener bar because if you came off your bike in a hurry you would square yourself in ways you would not soon forget. If you had an accident it was likely your fault, based on doing something dumb to show off, like riding with no hands, or if you were more daring, popping a wheelie. The best wheelie tricksters could ride a city block in a wheelie without breaking a sweat.
There was also the issue of double riding. You could pedal standing, and carry someone else on the seat, or you could carry someone straddling your handlebars in front. Or… you could do both and ride three though that might be a bit more peddling than most people wish for. I recall my mom saying that when she first worked as a school teacher, her transportation was a bike. The bike actually saved her life, because once coming home she was tracked by a cougar and lucky only because she managed to be faster than the cougar.
I can remember teaching my own kids how to ride a bike. It meant getting them off to a running start, then running beside the bike to make sure they were ok. It was a lot of work. I can also recall my own dad’s method for the same thing. Not liking too much physical exertion, he used his science credentials to cut down on the work load. Bicycle wheels stabilize like a gyroscope, due to the stability that centrifugal force lends. My dad would therefore take me to a hill and push me from the top, assuring me that the faster I went the more stable I would be. I had a lot of crashes into bushes before I figured out how to stop.
Well, bike riding is a simple pleasure that is for sure. You don’t have to wait around for grandchildren to revisit that. There are some other things that come with bike riding. They make you reminiscent in good ways. You can literally leave the world behind for an hour, and you are transported back in time, where your bike was freedom from your parents’ rules, and a way to distance yourself from whatever was going on at the time. You don’t have to have kids to ride a bike, but you will get to be a kid all over again, It’s what they say, everything old will be new again... including me.