You Never Forget

Apparently it’s true: you really do never forget how to ride a bike.

I took my new steed out for a trot around the block this evening. Actually, first I encouraged Angus to take his bike around the block. And he made it. Even with the stabilizers on, I ran behind him holding on, because the difference in pitch between normal sidewalk and the driveways is quite treacherous, and certainly too much for a beginner with questionable coordination. Gregor took off, running,  ahead of us and was home before we had rounded the final curve. But I give Angus much credit because he pedalled the whole way, even up the big hill, with no moaning or complaining and only fell off a little bit at the end.

After one circuit he declared himself done, but he was willing to run around once more, with his helmet on, he said. So I jumped on my bike and took them on a clockwise circuit which involves no road crossing.

I first rode a bike in the 1970s, rode around the houses as a child and was occasionally allowed to cycle to the next town as a teenager (but only if I called when I arrived, which I didn’t always remember to do; and that time I stopped off at someone’s house unannounced and didn’t call home because her big brother was having girl trouble and was on the phone, and then I forgot until about a hour later by which time my mother had nearly passed out from panic? Well, sorry about that.)

When I turned 21 I convinced the aforementioned traumatized parent to buy me my very first new bike. I was living away from home at this point so the prospects of them being traumatized all over again were relatively slim. I spent one glorious year pedalling around Edinburgh (wearing a helmet for the first time. Yes I am that old. Helmets for push bikes were not invented when I were a lass) on my new 21-speed, with the cutting edge twist-grip gear change. Oooo!

After years of stomping around the city or pedalling rustily on my sister’s old three-speed, I was positively gleeful to be flying along tree-lined Morningside avenues in any one of 21 gears. I bounced across Brunstfield Links on my wider-than-average hybrid tyres. I screeched to a halt and ‘chained’ by bike to the railings outside the library with a new-fangled D-Lock, stashed the key in my pocket, popped a plastic grocery bag over the seat (for protection against the inevitable showers of rain or passing student who’d spent a bit too long at the Pear Tree at lunchtime), clipped my helmet to my backpack and stomped off in my fake Doc Maarten’s.

A year later I flew off to visit my boyfriend in the US and, apart from a short flirtation before my wedding, abandoned my pride and joy flying machine along with my family and friends, and moved abroad. That was 14 years ago.

For some reason (oh yeah, we were broke) I never bought a bike in Boston. I could really, really have used one for getting to the subway station and for the trips home, when the connection would take longer to come than the walk would have taken. I suppose I could have picked one up at a yard sale or something but I never did. (It didn’t help that this was largely pre-Web too — yes, OK, I’m old! — and information about yard sales was gathered by walking past flyer-clad telephone poles, so your options were limited if you lived in a poorish neighbourhood, which we did.

I don’t know why I didn’t buy a bike when we moved to Pennsylvania. Lack of funds, inertia, objections from my non-cycling spouse, all contributed I suppose. Since we only had one car, a bike would have come in handy, but I never bought one.

And then I reached the stage where, whenever I seriously thought about buying a bike, I would discover I was pregnant.

But now, as I said, I am old and I am fat. My weight loss guru has advised finding a form of exercise that you loved as a kid. My boys are getting to bike-riding age. And, dammit, I wanted a bike! So I bought one.

I took it for a quick spin outside the house yesterday afternoon, but one boy was inside and one outside, and it was 92 degrees, so I didn’t get a chance to get a feel for the thing. But tonight?

Tonight I spent a happy half hour whizzing around the neighbourhood with one or both boys trotting alongside or waving to me from the playset in our fenced-in front garden as I wheeched grinning by.

Some things I learned:

1, You never forget how to ride a bike, in as much as ‘ride a bike’ means ‘pedal along in a straight line without falling off too much’.
2, You do forget how to steer in that effortless way you had as a kid: leaning into corners and making tight circles. Or maybe it isn’t that you forget. Maybe it’s that 20 years and 20 more pounds are upsetting the equilibrium a bit.
3, In spite of 15 years of driving over here, I had a bit of bother figuring out which side of the road I should be on.
3.1, Everything’s on the wrong side! I pulled up to the kerb to talk to Gregor (who was ‘poofed’) and realised that I would have to put my right foot down, not my left. Aargh. I jumped right off the bike instead, because my brain and my instincts couldn’t sort this fight out before the bike stalled and tipped me. And then THAT meant that, starting off, I had to start with my right foot on the ground and my left foot on the pedal, contrary to a life’s worth of pushing-off-on-a-bike-with-my-right-foot-first. Go on, YOU try doing something that you do instinctively, but with the wrong limb first…Go on, I’ll wait….. See?
4, My rear wheel brake is on the left-hand side, which is the hand you need to take off the handle-bars to signal the all-important left-hand turn (which here, unlike in Britain, is the one that crosses the traffic). You can probaby get away without signalling the ‘easy’ turn (in this case the right hand one) because your position on the road indicates it, and anyway, you’re not pulling out in front of cars behind you to do it. I haven’t quite worked this out yet and so will be spending a lot of time for now whizzing around the neighbourhood where most of the people in cars know me and will probably try to miss me, if only to avoid awkward silences at the next neighborhood Easter Egg Hunt.
5, I have not lost my love of flying as I glide along the road under pedal power.
6, Cheap bikes now are better than moderately-priced bikes 16 years ago. I had been nervous about my ability to pedal up even the slopes in our neighbourhood, but I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself.
7, A little exercise (and it hurts me to admit this) perks me right up.
8, I might have to get a bike trailer…

Stay tuned for more Amazing Adventures of the Cycling Scot, coming to a blog near you soon.

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One response to “You Never Forget

  1. Hey ….. you shouldn’t try to traumatise me AGAIN … at my age and being thousands of miles away. I suggest put bikes in the ‘van’, drive to Valley Forge and try out your new found skills on safer routes over the next few weeks.