Saturday, March 1, 2014

My First Grownup Bike

They say you never forget how to ride a bike. I can still remember my grandfather taking the training wheels off my tricycle when I was a little girl and trying to show me how to balance without them. I can also remember crashing shortly thereafter and insisting that he put the training wheels right back on. Eventually I learned to ride without them, but when I bought my first road bike last week, I wasn't sure how well my grandfather's lessons would transfer to adult bike riding. 

My fears were somewhat justified. Other than a brief bike rental on the Aran Islands when I studied abroad in Ireland, it had probably been a good decade since I was on a bike. Even then, road bikes are very different from the cheap, heavy, single speed mountain bikes I grew up on. Higher end road bikes have thinner wheels, more gears, and taller seats than what I was used to. When I walked out of the bike store I had no idea what to expect.


I spent so much time asking questions and ordering a helmet when I picked up my bike that I didn't get a chance to test ride it before I left the store. I was somewhat worried about riding it without a helmet anyway. Just for kicks I got on it and tried peddling on a stretch of sidewalk once I left the store. It didn't go well. I was carrying my heavy purse on one shoulder which threw my balance way off and  I realized within a few seconds that I was on a tiny incline which made me go faster than I would have liked. 

I immediately panicked and tried to stop by slamming my feet down like I would have as a kid, except that road bike seats are supposed to be high enough that only your tiptoes touch the ground when you're seated so stopping with my feet was not happening. I probably wasn't going as fast as I thought I was and I was able to stop myself fairly easily once I reminded my fear-addled brain that the bike had brakes, but it scared me enough that I decided I needed to go to a local park with a multi-use pedestrian path so I could practice riding the bike in a low-stress environment.

Of course, by the time I finally took the bike to the park for the first time, I had overreacted and convinced myself that I had forgotten how to ride a bike. Just in case anyone anyone is wondering, there are youtube videos on how to teach kids to ride bikes and also a New York Times article about learning to ride a bike as an adult. If you are lucky enough to live in New York, there are also adult bike riding classes. This is what happens when you combine my wild imagination with free time and access to google.


Anyway, to make a long story short, I took my bike to a local park yesterday, found a stretch of pavement with no pedestrians for me to run over and tried to ride my new bike for the second time. I did not have a heavy bag throwing off my balance and I was careful how much force I used on the pedals when I took off so that I didn't go too fast. I found my balance almost immediately and kept pedaling. And just like that, I was riding my first road bike. 

I made the mistake of going to the park before my physical therapy appointment, so I only had time to ride one loop of the park before I had to rush off to my appointment. That brief time was one of the most exhilarating experiences I have had in ages. I road to the top of a hill just so I could experience the rush of coming down again. I played with the gears, I pedaled fast, I pedaled slow, I learned how to stop safely. I was not at the park for very long, but by the time I left, I felt confident that spending over $500 on a bike was not a mistake.


This morning I had more time so I did something I haven't done since spraining my ankle: I turned on my Garmin. It took me a good ten minutes to find it because I haven't used it since the day I rolled my foot. It felt strange to use it for something other than running, but since my ankle still feels weak and unsteady when I do my balancing exercises or step on something like a twig that isn't perfectly even and steady, I don't think I'm ready to run on it just yet. Instead, I spent my morning getting in a few miles on wheels.

I am still not confident enough to ride my bike on the street, so I was that dangerous cyclist on the sidewalk this morning. I rode to the park, stayed until the bike seat started feeling uncomfortable, then rode home. There were a lot of uphills in the route I took, and pedaling up them reminded me of how out of shape I have gotten since I haven't been running. I was sweaty and out of breath in a way I haven't been since starting Couch25k a couple of years ago. The feeling was almost painful, but it hurt so good to make my muscles work again. 

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