Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Muh-Muh-Muh-My Monona

So, yeah, I got a bike. And she's the best bike that ever biked a bike.

As you know, I've been working towards this for a long time -- it took longer to get to it than I'd hoped in the beginning. Months longer. And in fact, I was hoping to have done this last week, but a beastly heat wave made the thought of test-riding bikes on my days off seem unbearable. But finally the magical alignment between money, weather, free time, and motivation occurred, and now she sits in my room (for the time being), shiny and winking at me.

Here's the thing, though: I haven't ridden a bike in nearly twenty years. Back then, mind you, I rode a lot -- I was a road racer, routinely riding 200 miles a week, working towards junior amateur competition. It wasn't entirely by choice, though. I rode the way any normal kid does for a long time, putzing around the neighborhood, and loved it. But then I was sort of pushed to do it in a more formal, more organized way, and that's when it became something I did because I was expected to and not because I wanted to. Still, I was pretty good, as anyone would be if they rode that much. I was reasonably fast, I could ride for a long time, and riding felt as natural to me as walking. I was never really going to be competitive in any serious way -- I was fast, but not unusually fast; I wasn't strong enough to be a good climber; and while I had very good endurance, that doesn't mean much if your heart's not in it.

Eventually the source of the pressure to ride left, and not longer after I quit riding entirely. I was probably fourteen or so at the time. And I didn't get up on a bike again until my first test ride yesterday afternoon.

Obviously I was nervous. I was intimidated. There's a lot of deep bike culture in this city, much of it decidedly up itself, and I am well aware that I don't fit the image of a Portland biker. I'd originally gone to the Community Cycling Center to look for a rebuilt bike, but they didn't have anything suitable -- it was the end of the summer during a year with the highest gas prices in history, and their stock of hybrid/commuter-style bikes had been totally depleted. A friend of mine was going through the same transition from car to bike, and had recently bought one and had a good experience at a particular bike shop, so she accompanied me there. The girl who met us at the door asked me a lot of questions about what I wanted to do with it, and then took me over to the bikes. She showed me a couple -- a sweet little Cannondale that made me feel nostalgic (my old bike was a Cannondale), and two Gary Fishers. My friend had bought the other Fisher and liked it a lot, but was experiencing a little remorse over not having coughed up the extra $100 to move up to the next model and get better components. The seller recommended it highly. And it was a seriously fucking pretty bike. I was smitten.

So we went upstairs to the test track for a little ride. I sort of hate to bring out the old, "you never forget how to ride a bike" cliche, but it turns out to be true -- twenty years on, I still knew how. I was, however, really fucking bad at it. The first time I pushed off I swerved straight toward the stairs. I backed up and tried again. I got to the end of the track, but I was as wobbly as the day I first learned how to ride. I had to keep a foot down around the turn. Jesus fucking Christ, how can something that used to be so effortless now be so awkward? I rode around the track a couple more times, making an ass of myself, finally starting to figure it out again. Neither my friend nor the bike seller laughed at me at all, bless them. She tried me out on another bike for comparison's sake -- a ghastly, heavy cruiser that had so much suspension it felt like riding a marshmallow. I rejected it after one trip around (ugh) and then tried the Cannondale. It was a really nice bike, too, not quite as pretty but still lovely and $50 less. Lots to think about.

My friend and I had lunch, then went to a few more shops to look at everything that was available. I decided to go home and ponder the matter before making any decisions. But I kept thinking about that first bike I'd seen, the first one I'd ridden -- it was a little more expensive than I'd planned, but not much, and it was perfect, everything I'd wanted. So today I went back and bought her. And now she's here in my room, and I'm falling very much in love

I did take her out for our first real ride this afternoon, mostly to further test whether I really could still ride. And yes, I'm relieved to say, I can. I rode her around the block and up through the neighborhood without much trouble, not far, but farther than I'd expected. I'm ungainly and graceless, weak, and much too tentative. I have no confidence. I used to be perfectly solid and steady, I could follow a straight line halfway across the state and back. Now my front wheel weaves and I'm constantly shifting on the saddle. There's a big disconnect between what my mind thinks should be happening -- what it still remembers of riding twenty years ago, when it was easy and natural -- and what's actually happening. But it'll come back. A year from now, it'll be easy and natural again. But I've got a lot of work to do.

The good thing, though, is that even though that first real ride was hard and surprisingly exhausting (it turns out that standing for eight hours a day and riding a bike use mutually exclusive muscle groups) it was also fucking fun. Once I was up and riding, it was nothing but elation, and it lasted for the rest of the evening, long after my first short ride was over. I've got my bike! And I'm going to ride every fucking street in this city before I'm done.

Of course, it's still not the most Portland-y bike. It's too new, too shiny, too complete. It's not sexy at all. And I'm going to look like a total goob riding it for months to come. But fuck it, we've all got to start somewhere.
11:57 PM ::
Amy :: permalink