Friday, March 25, 2011

It's just like riding a bike, unless you never learned to ride a bike.

There are certain things that people need to function in society that one is supposed to learn in childhood: smiling, saying"please" and "thank you", sharing *cough* bullshit!, rollerskating, cutting a straight line, hopscotch, blowing bubbles with your gum, ice skating, snapping your fingers, whistling, walking, running, skipping and biking. I can confidently say that I have mastered only three things on this list. I have a firm grasp of four of them. I am shaky on some and on the rest I would absolutely get an "F" for "Fat Freaking Failure".

I could tell amusing stories about all of these things, but today I would like to focus on the bicycle. Thanks to Guten Strudel's recent post for reminding me of my story and this post from the hilarious Hyperbole and a Half, I know that my sister and I are not alone in our lack luster cycling attempts. Sorry to drag you into this, my dear sister- but now is the time and the time is now.

bicycle 1

It was the Christmas of 1985. I was 10 (almost 11) years old and my sister had just turned 12. We had finally finished unwrapping all of our gifts from Santa (what?), playing with the things he brought us from "The Land of Misfit Toys" (i.e. otherwise known as a Craigslist type newspaper called The Thrifty Nickle) and admiring all of our preppy new sweaters with matching plastic beads (and colored socks) from the mall in Keokuk. All of a sudden our dad disappears into the basement and pops back up with two matching shiny burgundy Three-Speed bikes! Wow! Everyone knows that wheels=freedom.

My sister and I were thrilled at our new found freedom. We imagined riding the paved road to town and meeting our friends at the Dairy Delight for ice cream and gossip about how cute Kirk Cameron was on the latest episode of Growing Pains. We conjured up images of flying on our bicycles with the wind blowing bugs into our Laura Ingells-esq braids! We had wheels! We were going to be awesome! We were going to be FREE!!! Just like the TOWN KIDS!!!!

Then our parents looked at us with a great seriousness in their eyes. I feared that they were going to tell me that one of our six dogs had died. But no, they said "Now girls. You can only ride these in the driveway."

Ummm. Okay. LAME.

We lived on a farm. With a gravel driveway. Big gravel. More like giant boulders. The kind that throw a bike tire right out from under you. And then there was the hill, which combined with the boulders was a sure fire ticket to a head injury. Lord knows that I don't need any more head injuries.

Here is a map of our bike route, the whole course took about 1 1/2 minutes:

Guess how much we rode our shiny new bikes? I'll give you a hint: The first time I rode mine I rammed my pubic bone into the bar so hard that I was crying, because our father, who so desperately wanted boys, bought us two BOYS bikes.

So what happened? Because my sister and I never rode our bicycles, we never really learned to ride bicycles.

Instead, we rode horses.

Flash forward to 2001 where I totally invited myself on a girl's getaway to Glenwood Springs. There were three of us, having a wonderful time in the hot springs, browsing the quaint shops, playing pool and eating out. The second day one of the girls said "Hey! There is a great bike trail! Let's rent some bikes!!!".  I heard this "You are going to look like a total asshole when we find out that you haven't ridden a bike since you were 10. Especially when you mow down some nice lady pushing a stroller then topple over on a busy street corner."

Since I had butted in with my self-invite, I wanted to go with the flow. So I smiled nervously and said "That sounds like.... fun. You just can't go too fast because I haven't ridden a bike in like, 16 years.... and I'm not very good."

They laughed at me. I think they thought I was making light of the situation. They soon found out that they indeed let a socially inept, athletically challenged person (who gets loud when she drinks) come along with them on their weekend getaway.

The bike shop was in the middle of town. After we rented the bikes and wheeled them out onto the street, I realized that the empty wide road that I was hoping for to "practice" on was a fantasy. The reality was that I was going to have to mount the bike in the middle of town, which was busy with pedestrians and drivers and other cyclists (who could actually steer their bikes) and ride through all of the hustle and bustle without killing myself... or a passerby... or some poor dog on a leash.

My first attempt at go was wobbly and wonky and made my friends wonder how I even walk without a cane and a helmet. I couldn't get both feet on the pedals and balance and steer. Biking is HARD, people! I ended up doing that awkward walk with the bike between my legs. I decided that I could just do that the whole time and I would trick them all into thinking that I was actually riding the bike. I was slick with the nasty sweat of fear and failure, a combination that is all too familiar to me. I think that my girlfriends were beginning to feel the gravity of the situation, but they were kind and continued to offer words of encouragement. After a few minutes of that, with the help of a small hill, I gained a little balance and control. I was starting to feel less like everyone was staring at me and more like I could pull this off! Then we approached the bridge. The bridge was on the main drag through Glenwood Springs. It was long (stretching over I-70) and four lanes of traffic wide. On our right was the skinniest fucking sidewalk I had ever witnessed in my entire life. That tiny 6 inch wide sidewalk was where I was supposed to ride my rented bike. The bike that I could hardly keep upright, much less in a straight line. On the left of the sidewalk were rushing cars and trucks and on the right was a 20 foot drop off to the interstate. Super.

 I was pretty sure that I was going to die.

 But my girlfriends gleefully cheered "It's fine! You can do it!". I was not so certain. In that moment I hated myself for being such a brazen hussy and inviting myself along. But once a brazen hussy, always a brazen hussy; so I gathered up my courage, teetered, tried to push off, tripped on the pedals, went sideways, and caught myself before I fell headfirst into oncoming traffic. Then, my face beat red with humiliation, I took a breath and tried again. I had moderate success. ("Moderate" meaning I somehow navigated the bike over the bridge and didn't mow down any people or kill myself in the process.)

The trip ended up being wonderful. I even eventually enjoyed the bike ride so much that I went home and bought a really nice bike (a purple one from Walmart that was made for a tween.) I didn't care if it looked like I pushed a Girl Scout off her bike and stole it, that little Schwinn built up my confidence and ability.

I am now a serious biker, if you call biking in a skirt to the Dairy Queen "serious". But I do own a nice cruiser (currently with a flat tire) and have only almost fallen over on it once. I even learned the cyclist lingo. Read: My bike has a basket. Sometimes I even wear a helmet. I own padded butt shorts. umhm.

But that leaves my poor sister..... she still hadn't ridden a bike since the mid-eighties. Three years ago she and I took a 10 month old Thing 1 on an airplane ride to Washington state. We visited Leavenworth, which made me want to throw out both arms while running and sing songs from The Sound of Music. After they kindly asked me to leave town (just kidding?), we visited Lake Chelan. We stayed in a cute little resort where they had bicycles to rent. They even had one with a baby seat. I convinced my super athletic sister that biking was great exercise! and once she remembered how to do it, she would have fun and fitness, all rolled into one.

The rental bicycles were the high quality kind with no speeds and no brakes (you pedaled backwards to stop). The resort was full of hills, but they were all paved, so that was a major improvement over my parent's rock driveway. My sis was really doing well until we came upon the big hill.

The big hill was completely devoid of cars and people, save one house, where men were working on the roof and their vehicles were parked on the street. My nervous sister started down the hill carefully and slowly. She was doing okay at first, then she started to get more and more wobbly as she continued down. With the front tire lurching and jerking in every direction but forward, she wandered off course and was very slowly careening toward the three cars parked on the street. She started moaning "Ohhh!" and cursing. I witnessed as all the workmen stopped hammering to watch my sister come within inches of crashing into their parked vehicles (all at the speed of about .25 miles per hour.) Good thing she remembered to put her foot on the ground! Whew!

She was mortified.

I was laughing so hard that I had to stop my bike~ because I was losing all muscle control and feared that I might soil myself.

Here is a picture of our route, my sister's is pink:

So what is the point of this story?
If you need to feel like a professional cyclist (or just moderately competent), invite my sister and I along on for a ride and enjoy the feeling of your ego inflating- just stick to the bikes, not the horses.

And oh yeah, teach your kids to ride bikes.
I'm off to motivate Thing 1 to get out of the dirt pile (doesn't everyone have one of those in their yard?) and onto his bicycle.

P.S. I want to thank my other horsey friend for sharing her fairly recent biking story of yelling "GET OFF THE PATH! I'M COMING THROUGH!" at all people who happened to be on the bike trail while she was there, because she felt like she couldn't properly steer her bike. You know who you are and your story made me love you even more. 


  1. Bwahahahahaha!! I snorted into my coffee at that second map! Too funny.
    I am going to admit something that I usually keep as a closely guarded secret (especially in my neighborhood of crazy bike riders who go out all day biking and wear that horrible ass biking clothing): I really don't like bike riding. I actually didn't even have one for many years, which was a relief because it saved me from having to makeup excuses not to have to ride with Brian. Who makes biking even less fun because he leaves me in the dust, alone (sweating profusely and huffing and puffing) with him miles ahead riding like it's exercise or something.
    My Mom gave me her old cruiser bike at the end of last summer. And it's adorable, and has and basket, and a BELL!!! But it weighs about a million pounds and the front tire needs to be fixed. So it hangs in the garage. I predict it could hang there for years, untouched except for me ringing the bell every time I walk past (which causes me to giggle like a mental patient because it's so friggen cute!).
    Maybe if I didn't live on a huge hill... or if there was a Dairy Queen at the bottom of said hill... I might be a tad more motivated.

  2. Mine has a bell too! You would like riding with me, I promise. :-)

  3. Riding with a girlfriend would be SO much better; fun even!

  4. I love it! Especially the hand drawn maps! Johi, you rock! FWIW, I can ride a bike, but I can ride a horse MUCH, MUCH better. My girls cannot ride bikes. Hubby and I kicked around the idea of bikes for the next major holiday, but then we doubled over in a fit of giggles, trying to imagine our girls on bikes. We decided to wait until we have better health insurance.

  5. Oh delightful! Misery loves company! I'm so glad I'm not the only one. Tell your sister I'm proud of her that she didn't actually fall off the bike like I did.

  6. Oh Johi, I so needed this today! I have just a vivid image of that big hill and The Sister careening down it! ~ Bobbie

  7. Can I just say my favorite was the hand drawn second map with the squiggly line? This post MADE MY DAY! And also, once in high school a group of us decided to ride our bikes somewhere and this one girl who was supposed to be my very best friend was all "but I don't know how to ride a bike" and I thought she was kidding because, DUH! Who doesn't know how to ride a bike, right?! But it turned out she didn't and I never could look at her quite the same after that. I mean, we were BEST FRIENDS and I had no idea she was harboring this terrible secret.

  8. Awe shucks! Thanks guys. I don't know if my sister has read this yet, but I will be sure to tell her how popular she is with all of you!

  9. I would have clicked on fucking genius but it just seemed wrong. Loved it!!!!!

  10. @Simple girl- hilarious (because it is true!)