Lessons In Bike Riding

by SecraTerri

"Let's floor it," David says. And he shoots off ahead of me down the Bay Farm Island trail, like a Happy Meal wind-up toy on overdrive. In a matter of seconds he disappears around the curve of shoreline.

Suddenly ... I am riding by myself again.

This is the first time we've ridden since Easter weekend -- since the ill-fated Crockett to Martinez ride, the week before my new bike was stolen -- and I feel stiff and winded and out of practice. Plus I'm riding Addie again. We dragged the clunky-but-reliable Schwinn Cruiser out of storage this weekend -- thank god we hadn't gotten around to shipping her to TicTac [or selling her on eBay, or raffling her off on *FootNotes*] -- and it feels like I've got twenty-pound anvils strapped to each ankle.

I'm not complaining, though.

We're at least another paycheck away from being able to afford a replacement for the stolen bike [and we are being assisted in that effort by my incredibly groovy family of readers] ... but in the meantime, I'll be damned if I'm going to allow some gutless shidthead bicycle thief to derail our plans. As we left for our ride this morning, I made a point of wheeling Addie out into the main courtyard, next to the swimming pool, where we were defiantly visible from every other apartment in the complex. It was my way of saying So there! ... just in case Gutless Shithead Bicycle Thief Person was spying on me from behind his living room curtains or something. If I have to trundle a bazillion extra pounds' worth of Schwinn around for a while, just to make sure we reach our goal of riding 2,002 miles this year ... then that's what I'll do. I'm OK with that.

Besides, it is wholly appropriate that I should be back on Addie this morning ... because today is our anniversary.

It was exactly one year ago today that I climbed aboard my shiny new Schwinn, for the very first time, and took that first wobbly, terrifying ride around the parking lot. At the time I had no idea whether this bike-riding stuff was going to be a permanent thing ... or whether I had just shelled out three hundred bucks for a towel rack. But I was willing to give it a go.

I'm so glad I did.

It's been an AMAZING year. Bike-riding has revolutionized the way I think about myself, my body, my physical abilities. It has enabled me to define myself as an 'athlete' for the first time in my whole life. It helped me lose two dress sizes before my wedding. It gave my metabolism a boost ... not to mention my stamina, my self-esteem, my brand-new marriage. It's given me a big bunch of material for *FootNotes.* [This was especially important once I said "I Do" ... instantly rendering wedding-preparation-chat obsolete.] Plus I've learned a lot this year: about the sport of riding, about bicycle mechanics, about California geography. I know the difference between Presta valves and Schrader valves ... index shifting and regular shifting ... the Canal Trail and the Iron Horse Trail. I can patch a flat tire. I can disconnect quick-release brakes. I can steer with one hand and adjust an errant bra strap with the other.

I am a veritable *treasure trove* of bike-related information.

Here then -- for what it's worth -- is some of the accumulated wisdom I've picked up along the way. I figure that if it inspires just one reader to put down that Hot Pocket, get off the sofa and drag her rusty Mercier 10-speed down from the garage attic ... it will all be worth it.



Ten Things I've Learned About Bike-Riding
~ By Secra ~


  • When they tell you that you 'never forget how to ride a bike' ... they're lying.

    You absolutely do forget how to ride a bike.

    For about the first fifteen seconds, anyway. [Especially when it's been twenty-seven years, three children, two marriages, sixty pounds and at least six Presidential administrations between bike rides.]

    For those initial fifteen seconds -- when your sedentary middle-aged butt connects with the padded vinyl seat of a bicycle for the first time in three decades -- you might as well be trying to recall those eighth-grade Spanish verb tenses, for all the good your 'memory' is going to do you.

    That's the bad news. The good news is that it all comes back to you pretty quickly after that.

    [If those first fifteen seconds haven't killed you, that is.]


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  • Spandex is your friend.

    So is index shifting, sunscreen, unflattering bike jerseys with those weird little pockets in the back, waterproof mascara, ugly bike helmets, buttercup yellow windbreakers, a good stiff pair of bike gloves ... and all of the other stuff I thought was too dorky/too high-tech/too not-for-me, one short year ago.

    [The jury is still out on TOE CLIPS. Check back in another year.]


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  • You will never be the grooviest rider on the bike trail, no matter what.

    It doesn't matter how spiffy your bike is ... how trendy your riding clothes ... how strong and sure your riding technique: there will always be somebody on the bike trail who is spiffier/trendier/stronger/groovier-in-every-way than *you* are.

    [It's sort of like junior high school.]

    Furthermore, this infinitely groovier rider will come zipping past you, at 80 bazillion mph, at the exact moment you are reaching around to discreetly tug the Spandex out of your buttcrack. As they roar off into the distance, leaving you sputtering in their dust, you'll find yourself thinking "God, what an incredibly annoying, show-offy BITCH! I HATE her! I hope she DIES! [I wonder where she bought her bike shoes?]"

    On the other hand ... there will probably always be somebody on the bike trail who looks at you and thinks the exact same thing.


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  • If you're wondering whether or not the guy in the brown Ford Explorer sees you coming ... he probably doesn't.

    The only genuine "Oh My God I'm About To Die" Moments I've experienced this year involved motorists pulling in and out of driveways. On at least one occasion it was my own fault -- I was daydreaming about frosted blueberry scones, when I should have been paying attention to traffic -- but the other times it was because the driver 1.) looked but didn't see me , 2.) didn't look and didn't see me, or 3.) looked, saw me ... and decided to run over me anyway, just for fun.

    I've learned to err on the side of caution ... and to ride on the other side of the street, whenever possible.


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  • Keep your mouth shut while you ride.

    Especially when you're riding through heavily wooded areas.

    [Unless you actually enjoy swallowing insects whole ... in which case you might consider auditioning for "Survivor: Alameda."]


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  • Falling down isn't fatal.

    I spent the first ten months of my *riding career* obsessively worried about falling down/falling over/falling off my bike. I was certain that there was an excruciatingly painful compound fracture [and a couple of missing teeth, probably] in my future. I just didn't know exactly when or how it was going to happen. All of this obsessive fear and worry made it difficult, at times, to worry about other, more practical concerns ... like learning to navigate. Or letting go of the handlebar long enough to scratch my nose. Or exhaling, occasionally.

    And that sucked a few of the *fun molecules* out of some of those early rides.

    So of course when it finally happened -- when I finally took that first big spill, right in the middle of the abandoned Alameda Naval Base -- it was almost a relief. It hurt ... but it didn't hurt that much. It was embarrassing ... but it wasn't that embarrassing. [Plus it freed me up to start worrying obsessively about other, more practical concerns ... such as whether or not one is supposed to wear underpants under Spandex riding shorts.]

    If you are a novice rider, here's what I suggest you do: turn off the computer, right now ... go outside and get on your bike ... head for the nearest public trail ... and fall off your bike on purpose.

    Trust me: you'll be glad you got it over with.


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  • Hills are Nature's way of saying "NOW aren't you glad you didn't order that triple-bacon-cheeseburger?"

    The only good thing I have to say about uphills, frankly ... is that they are generally followed by DOWNhills.


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  • Not everybody is as enchanted with you & your bike as *you* are.

    People walking their dogs, people pushing baby carriages, people on scooters, people on rollerblades, people jogging, elderly people with rolling oxygen units ... these are the sort of people who probably aren't going to burst into applause when they see Oh-So-Adorable *You* riding towards them on your bike. As a matter of fact, these are the people most likely to hope you hit a pothole and fly over the side of the embankment and crash land in the Contra Costa Canal, bicycle first.

    Don't take it personally.

    The multi-use trail is a lot like a hospital emergency room: everybody feels they have more of a right to be there than *you* do. The joggers hate the dog-walkers. The scooter people hate the power-walkers. The baby carriage people hate the rollerbladers.

    And all of them hate the bicyclists.

    This sense of overblown entitlement can make for some pretty tense moments if you aren't extremely careful [slow down to a nice safe 5 mph when passing] ... if you aren't extremely courteous ["On your left: two bicycles"] ... and if you don't refrain from saying things like "Fudk you" or "Your infant looks like a Chihuahua" or "What part of 'On your left' didn't you understand, moron?"

    I'm not sure that it will make the rest of them like you any better ... but at least their 'infant' won't try to take a bite out of your leg.


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  • Pain is temporary. Dead is forever.

    I don't know whether it's because of the events of September 11th ... or because I'm forty-four years old, and I can feel the Menopause Fairy nipping at my heels ... or because I'm blissfully married for the first time in my life [and would like to enjoy the feeling for a while longer] ... but lately I've been thinking about my own mortality.

    Not a lot. But certainly more than before. [Read this: more than I did before the retinol stopped doing me any good.]

    I'm not morbidly obsessed with it or anything. I don't lay awake in bed at night, wondering how or where or when it will happen. I don't worry about whether or not I'm going to Heaven. [Nobody I like is going to be there, anyway.] I don't spend a lot of time planning every detail of my funeral. [I want each of my loved ones to walk down the aisle, one at a time, and place a single yellow rose upon my open casket.] But I do occasionally find myself doing the math in my head -- If I live to be eighty-eight, then I'm at the halfway point right now -- and I do occasionally find myself pondering the difference between breathing and not-breathing. Here's what I've decided:

    Breathing is better.

    And if one of the things that keeps me breathing for a nice, long time is the occasional *Agony Moment* on my bicycle ... then I figure it's probably worth it.


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  • Today's setback is tomorrow's *FootNotes* entry.

    As longtime *FN* readers are no doubt [painfully] aware, it took me almost a year to make it over the stoopid Moraga Hill.

    Along the way, I managed to squeeze four or five *FootNotes* entries, nearly as many back-links in completely unrelated entries and a buttload of sympathetic reader response out of the struggle. [And I will probably continue to use the experience anecdotally for the next fortysomething years ... whenever I'm writing about Overcoming Insurmountable Obstacles, and I can't come up with anything more topical to use as an example.]

    Bike-riding has presented me with endless opportunities to turn misery into art.

    Flat tires, inclement weather, the fudking 'Good Morning' People, muscle cramps, menstrual cramps, stale Power Bars, Spandex terrorists, dogs, insects, ground squirrels with death wishes, changing seasons, gear trouble, Gutless Shidthead Bicycle Thieves ... all have become fodder for the website at one time or another. In fact, this has become the very best way for me to deal with the occasional temporary setback: to grit my teeth, bear down, buck up ...

    ... and remind myself that this is going to make one helluva *FootNotes* entry eventually.


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    By the time I reach the stone boat -- our traditional stop-and-catch-our-breath point, whenever we're riding around Bay Farm Island -- I am seriously ready for a break. [And a couple of hours in a hyperbaric chamber, maybe.] My heart is thundering in my chest like a herd of ground squirrels, and I'm dripping with sweat from head to toe.

    It's been one heck of a ride so far ... and we still have another fifteen miles to go.

    David is already there, checking the odometer. "Twenty-six minutes," he announces. He means that it has taken us exactly twenty-six minutes to ride from our apartment to the stone boat. "We missed the record by sixteen seconds," he adds.

    I am momentarily crestfallen. "It's because of me, isn't it?" I say mournfully. "I slowed us down, didn't I?" I've tried -- I've really tried -- but I just can't keep up with him, as long as I'm riding on a bigger, slower bike. [Although I must admit that the Schwinn's cushy padded bicycle seat is like a little slice of butt heaven.] But David says no, no, no ... that's not how he meant it at all. We weren't out to break any records today, anyway. All we wanted to do was chip away at our goal a little bit.

    "We'll thank ourselves later this year," he points out. "Every twenty miles will help."

    I pull my water bottle out of the bike bag and plop down on the edge of the stone boat, with my feet resting on Addie's crotch-friendly top tube. For a moment or two I sit there, waiting for my pulse to ratchet itself down to normal, and while I sit I regard my little red bike fondly. We've had a good year together, Addie and me. She's taught me things I thought I was too old to learn. She's taken me places I never thought I'd go. It makes me sad to think that I've outgrown her -- that soon I'll be swapping her out [again] for something lighter and leaner and more in line with the new goals I've set for myself -- but perhaps she'll go on to be the catalyst for some other woman's magical midlife transformation. I hope so.

    But in the meantime ... Addie and I have a little more riding to do.

    Copyright �2002 SecraTerri. All Rights Reserved.