Thursday, April 16, 2009

Like Riding a Bike

There's an old saying that you never forget how to ride a bike. Had you seen me in our local Dick's Sporting Goods yesterday evening, you may question the validity of that bit of wisdom. I had all the grace of a newborn deer as I tried a bike on for size, getting behind the handlebars for the first time in over two decades.

When Ainsley learned how to ride her bike sans training wheels two weeks ago, she started wanting to go places. It was a preview to her at age 16 1/2 when, if all goes well, the state of Kentucky will license her to drive. With this first set of wheels she was introduced to the joy of being able to transport yourself to places in a fraction of the time it would take to walk. She wanted to ride to the park. She wanted to ride to her Mamaw's. She wanted to explore the neighborhood.

And of course she wanted someone to go with her.

This week she's on spring break and hanging out with her dad. Mostly, she has wanted to ride her bike to the park while Jason sprints down the hills to keep up. So no surprise when I drove home yesterday and saw her on her little bike making the rounds around the cul-de-sac.

What was a bit of a surprise was that I also saw a tall, thin, shaved-haired guy on a bike next to her. Jason bought himself a bicycle.

But he wasn't wearing a helmet! Has he learned nothing from Natasha Richardson?

Of course, the kid was wearing her helmet. "Do as we say, not as we do" is how we roll in our house.

Jason showed me his new ride and started talking about how I needed to get one now so we could go on family bike rides together. I saw a familiar glimmer in his eye; the same one I saw back in 1996 when he talked me into buying my first laptop, the one I saw again in 2001 when we test-drove an Impala when I had really been thinking about a Prism, the one I saw a few years later when we booked our trip to Vegas, the one I saw just last year when we first played Rock Band on a friend's PS3. It's a look that says,

Stop being a cheapskate for 3 seconds and let's blow some money!

I alternately hate and love that look. Any purchase over $100 gives me hives, and I only get that look from him when we're talking at least one Benjamin.

I also alternately hate and love bike riding. I adored it as a kid; where I grew up, most places I needed to go were a ten-minute bike-ride away: my middle- and high-school, the convenience store, the video store, the library, my friend's house. I loved feeling the wind, speeding down hills, the ache in my quads when I rode up a big Kentucky hill. But my most prominent battle scars all come from bike wrecks. That visible-when-it-gets-sunburnt patch of too-shiny skin over my left eyebrow? Bike wreck. The thick, wrinkly, bald white circle on my left knee? Bike wreck. The half-a-dozen pink blotches all over my right knee and shin bone? Bike wrecks. (One of those might be from a tragic razor accident, but mostly bike wrecks.) I lived at the bottom of a hill, and our driveway was a treacherous slope, and no one on my street was ever without a scab somewhere from a mishap either from racing down my driveway or going no-hands down my street. Eventually it got to be too much, and in tenth grade I grew afraid of doing permanent damage, so I gave up my ten-speed for good.

20 years later, and I am thinking of getting back on the horse, so to speak. I couldn't quite commit to it last night; there were too many decisions. I had no idea there were so many types of bike now. I remember when everyone but the serious athletes rode Schwinn ten-speeds. At the sporting goods store, I was confronted by mountain bikes, road bikes, comfort bikes, and hybrids, which blend features of all three of the others. Prices ranged from about what I expected to "Holy crap that's a lot of money for a bike!" Then there was the wall of helmets (from which I told Jason he must choose or face my wrath). Add to that the lure of probably unnecessary but definitely cool accessories and I became overwhelmed.

Then I realized I would have to pick a size. Next to the word "medium" in the dictionary is a mugshot of me, so I kept looking for an M on a bike; hey, it works for clothes shopping.

"They measure the sizes in inches, dear," Jason said. And he rolled out a 16" comfort bike for me.

And that's when I learned that one may not forget how to coast, but one may certainly lose the memory of pedalling. At least, the memory of doing it without losing one's balance and nearly knocking over the Livestrong display.

Having slept on it, and having talked to someone at work about the joys of several paved family bike trails located across the river, I have decided to go get a comfort bike on my day off tomorrow. I will get a helmet, natch. Plus a well-stocked first-aid kit.

Do any of you still ride bikes? And if so, do you have some new scars to prove it?

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