When Elisa and I became friends, she was getting more involved in living a local lifestyle. We joined a community supported agriculture group together, reveling in the glory of fresh, local produce each week. She planted a garden outside her apartment’s back door. And she bought a bike, a beautiful cruiser she named Kevin Bacon.
These were things she’d been interested in for some time, but her involvement quickly took off. In particular, that was true for her cycling. Before long, Elisa began riding her bike everywhere and upgraded to a commuter bike, a friendly, sleek guy she named Mick Jagger. Recently she and some friends launched a bicycle co-op. And after months of listening to her talk about the joys of bike riding, I made a deal with her: Find me a cheap bike that fits me, and I’ll try riding.
So she did. And today, I became a bike owner.
My bike, Eleanor Rigby, is a blue Nishiki Pueblo, a hybrid that needed just a little love. Elisa and a friend tuned her up, but the back wheel needed a little more work than Elisa could provide. So this morning I picked her and Eleanor’s back wheel up and we drove to the local bike shop.
I left my apartment brimming with excitement and anticipation. I’m a very risk-averse person; sometimes I get nervous driving the same route I take every day. But I want my recreational biking to be more than riding around my (very small) neighborhood five times a day. I hope to load Eleanor into my car and take her downtown on weekends, when the streets aren’t filled with traffic and when I’m likely to waste a lot of gas just running around.
While Elisa spoke to the bike mechanics, I got fitted for a helmet. (Helmet hair be darned! I technically purchased my helmet before my bike. It’s that important!) And after we returned to her apartment and replaced Eleanor’s wheel, I was ready for my first ride as an adult bike owner.
Elisa kindly offered to join me on the one mile trip from her apartment to the birthday party I was attending, and her presence really did help me feel more comfortable with riding down a semi-busy street. Even so, it was an easy ride, mostly downhill and flat, with only a block uphill. And the rewards were sweet: Two friends and their children were climbing out of their car when I pedaled up. I was the talk of the party (OK, save for the precious 1-year-old whose birthday we were celebrating!), and I felt pretty darn great. Intrinsic motivation is great, but a little outside motivation helps too.
After the party came the ride I was nervous about. I was meeting friends to play at the science museum downtown, and had decided to ride the two miles to my coffee shop. Although the museum is only five blocks farther, I knew I would feel comfortable leaving my bike locked to a meter outside the shop. And frankly, I always want coffee.
I set out from my friends’ house with warnings to be careful and to call them if I needed any help. A recent doctor’s visit confirmed that I’m healthy, but as I pedaled through the streets of downtown I was quickly reminded that healthy and in shape are two very different things. Even riding on the flat roads wore me out. I had to stop twice and quickly finished the tiny bottle of water I brought with me.
But I felt so accomplished as I pedaled over the bridge (a hill!) and crossed from Southside to downtown. I spotted a girl in a pink shirt pedaling toward me and knew it was Elisa. She joined me for the final three blocks to the coffee shop, and I’ll admit, I didn’t feel quite so awesome as we pulled up. I was sweaty, my dress was sticking to me and that two mile ride had kicked my butt. My best guy friend walked up, laughing at me (I’d already warned him that this was how I would arrive), and after locking my bike I went inside and threw myself across the counter. “Water!” I said, panting. “I need water!”
Another friend who rides had cautioned me to take it slow as I began riding. Only ride when you want to, he said, and don’t let anyone push you into doing more than you’re ready for. Bike nerds can be pretty hardcore, and he didn’t want me to become disenchanted before I really got going. So after playing at the museum, I decided to lift my bike into the back of a friend’s truck and get a ride back to my car. Five and a half miles on my first day would have sounded more impressive (OK, even if it’s not very far on wheels!), but loving my bike tomorrow is more important.
As he lifted my bike into his truck bed, my friend identified the source of my troubles. My back tire was scraping the bar that held it in place. No wonder those two miles were so tortuous! “Do I get superhero points for riding with it like that?” I asked him. He said maybe not. But I am even more motivated to keep going, and that’s enough for today.
Oh, and the other lesson from my first day as a bike owner? Pigtails are definitely the way to rock a lilac and white helmet. If you pass me on the street, be kind. I’m new at this.