Biking goes with summer like ice cream on a sunny, sweltering day. Is there anything funner or more liberating than an early morning (or midday, or evening) ride?
To be honest, I’ve had a bike for about two years, and never really rode it. It sat on my roommate’s balcony until we moved, then sat in my living room—untouched, collecting dust and rust. I genuinely thought I was incapable of biking for the longest time. This, despite the fact that my father and I had gone through that two-wheeler rite of passage years ago.
The bike sitting unused was my mom’s old racer. A beautiful vintage Apollo that she’d had since long before I was even a twinkle in her eye. When they were likely around my age, my parents were biking across Europe. I wasn’t even biking to the corner store.
Maybe I can blame my avoiding the Apollo on the roughly two-inch difference in height between my mom and I. Or perhaps the racer’s handlebars, which feature a sharp, intimidating downturn. Whatever the cause, the effect was: I tried to ride once or twice, then got anxious and claimed that I would change the racer handlebars to comfortable cruisers “eventually.”
One summer went by. Two summers went by. I watched enviously as others cycled off, going on brewery tours, getting ice cream, or beating the heat at the beach. Walking on two legs felt truly archaic next to these free-wheeling riders. But time had passed, and I’d convinced myself I simply was not able.
It’s easy to fall into this rut of thinking—at least, if you’re like me it is. To procrastinate, or presume the worst. To say, “I can’t,” rather than try and fail.
Unfortunately, I can’t claim full credit for a change of heart or nerve. My partner suggested we should get biking this summer. I started looking online at “comfort” and “cruiser” bikes—ones that don’t feature a sharp downturn and accompanying back pain. I got a little bit hopeful that, at least, I could learn to ride again on a less aggressive bike.
We chose a day to look at bikes. We stopped at Bikes on the Drive, and laid out our wants and needs. My partner joked that we were looking for bikes to get from “A-to-beach.” The salesman made a bike recommendation, and asked if I’d like to take it for a spin.
A spin? I wasn’t ready for a spin. You don’t ask an anxious person—who’s ready to look at bikes, then sit on a purchasing decision for several months—if they’d like to take a bike out for a spin. Who did he think I was, Fabiana Luperini?
I couldn’t react with alarm to such a seemingly innocuous request, though. I did manage to stammer out a semi-cohesive sentence about my previous bike being a bad fit. “I just want to make sure this is a good fit for someone who’s short… and not a confident rider.”
“Not a confident rider.” I’d said it—admitted that I wasn’t good at riding bikes. That I would likely be outpaced by an eight-year-old on their sibling’s hand-me-down two-wheeler.
But I was eyeing an electric blue Nordco comfort bike, and it did only make sense to take it out before buying.
My partner and I each grabbed bikes and prepared for a quick cycle around the block. I made sure not to mount the bike until I was around the corner, away from busy Commercial Drive and the eyes of more competent bikers.
I mounted the bike—much more easily than when I’d tried to hop on the Apollo racer. Adjusting my Birkenstocks and steeling my nerve, I started peddling. The bike started moving. I didn’t fall off. I squealed with glee. We got back to the store and I immediately settled up.
As we get older, I think we become less adventurous and take fewer chances. We worry about looking foolish—adults are “supposed” to always know what they’re doing. And as long as you don’t extend yourself, you never have to look foolish. Even though I knew how to bike, I thought I had forgotten. I thought “It’s like riding a bike” was made-up. The fact that I worry compulsively didn’t help any, of course.
But all it took was finding the right bike. Many people can ride a racer, and even enjoy doing so. I’m not one of those people. It’s obvious from the two years that I neglected a perfectly good bike. Sometimes it’s not worth trying to “stick it out.” Sometimes it’s better to recognize when it isn’t working, accept it, and try something new. I’m riding my new bike and loving it. Biking on the racer just made me nervous and sweaty.
There’s plenty that I need to learn as I age. One, is to take more chances. I tend to overthink things, and I’m rarely spontaneous. But as important as it is to extend yourself, it can be equally as important to know your limitations. Find your strength and do what works.