Until recently, I have always had a hate-hate relationship with the bicycle.
I got my first bike when I was already old enough to know what it felt like to fall. The appeal of balancing myself on two wheels completely evaded me. My parents both worked full-time and although they gave me the bike, responsibility for teaching me to ride fell to my aunt and uncle, with whom I spent my summers.
My aunt and uncle taught me how to ride in the gravel pit across the road from their house. It was a harsh introduction to the bicycle — I still have memories of extracting the dirt and stones from open gashes on my legs. I never understood why they chose a gravel pit for my classroom until I recounted the experience to my cousin as an adult. She claimed full responsibility. My aunt and uncle had taught her to ride a bike a few years before me. They are master horticulturalists and their yard is an impeccable display of greenery and blossoms worthy of the Royal Botanical Gardens. When my cousin had learned to ride, she had pitched herself into the forgiving softness of their flower beds at every wobble, trampling and shredding their award-winning botanicals along the way. By the time I came along, they were taking no more chances with their flora.
After that, I managed to avoid bike riding almost completely until the summer I was married. There was a bike in the garage of the house we were renting and briefly, it seemed like a good idea to ride it to work. My husband undertook to give me a refresher course in bike riding. The bike was a ten speed racing bicycle with tires no wider than my baby finger and curved handle bars that I had to bend myself over precariously, forehead pointed to the pavement. My first and only lesson was in city rush hour. I was so terrified that my grip on the handle bars snapped my engagement ring in half.
I went on in life as a happy pedestrian. Then two years ago, a friend offered me a bicycle that she was no longer using. She and her husband showed it to me in their shed and to my surprise, I was captivated. It was a gleaming red Japanese cruiser bike of elegant vintage proportions, fit with a basket that beseeched to be filled with a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread and a bouquet of daisies. Its name, spelled out in calligraphy on a little black plaque on one side, was “Elle.” Elle could be mine in exchange for a bottle of wine, they said. I knew immediately that I must have her.
Life, however, had other intentions and it was two hectic years before I would see Elle again. By then, my children had become avid cyclists and I was experiencing the pangs of being left in their dust as I tried to keep pace on foot behind them. I assumed that Elle had gone off with someone else, traded for another’s bottle of wine. But when I asked my friend, she was still waiting for me. The exchange was made, and with a tune-up from Frog Cycles, who fell instantly in love with her, Elle was ready to cruise.
I told my boys that they would be teaching me how to ride a bike and warned that all those before them had failed. They were confident in their mission and liked telling people about it. “So your mom has a new bike?” I heard a friend say, “What’s it like?”
My oldest son thought hard. “Well,” he said earnestly, “If Little Red Riding Hood was a bicycle, she’d be this one.”
They would plan their teaching methods in quiet moments on the couch. “So how are we going to do this?” one pondered.
“Remember when we learned?” reminded the other.
There was a pause, then, “Oh, yeah. She’s going to need training wheels.”
When the day came, they took me to their school parking lot where we spent over an hour doing careful loops around the parking circle, riding straight along the fluorescent yellow parking spot lines and swirling in cautious figure eights. My kids were patient and encouraging. Finally, my wobble was gone: I was riding a bike and liking it.
Soon I found myself wanting more. “Let’s go for a long ride,” I said. “Let’s ride out of town.”
“Why can’t we just keep riding in the school parking lot?” complained my youngest. “It’s so much fun.” I explained that I was ready to expand my skills and that continuing to ride around the parking lot would be like repeating kindergarten when you know you’re ready for grade one. “Wait,” he frowned, as if he’d missed an opportunity. “I could have done that?”
Soon I started taking to the roads myself and these days I can be found cycling to nowhere in particular, lured by the unknown of a path I’ve never seen before and a journey I may or may not have the tenacity to complete. It feels like soaring. I like to tell my boys how I can fly on two wheels and they just smile knowingly.
“You thought you’d fall so you wouldn’t try,” reminded my youngest the other day and I nodded. “Really, Mommy, we float,” he said, shaking his head as if I was silly. “It’s just ourselves who keep us down.”
By Anita Odessa