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Impromtu cycling

Posted on: June 29, 2011

A few Wednesdays ago, I found myself at home, alone, for the day. The kids were all at preschool/daycare, but I hadn’t been called in to work. With the child-free hours stretching before me, I decided today was not a day to be wasted. I was going to spend some time reading, and maybe even watch a movie. A simple plan. Easy enough to follow. However, as I got myself nice and comfy on the couch and prepared myself to remain there for at least a couple of hours, I suddenly had a surprising thought. It went something like, “You know, it’s a lovely day outside. Maybe I should go for a walk…” It was a nice, sunny day, but it was also rather cold and very windy. The more I thought about walking in such weather, the more disinclined I became to budge from under my warm blanket. But just as I was about to dismiss the idea as mere folly, another wild idea popped into my head. “Well, if it’s too cold for a walk, I could go for a ride instead!” Huh? I don’t ride. I don’t even own a bike. I haven’t sat on a bike seat since the time Tom and I went tandem bike riding six years ago in the Hunter Valley. It was an ill-conceived attempt to avoid the whole designated driver dilemma whilst wine-tasting. It was a lot of fun, even though it got harder and harder to keep the bike upright the more inebriated we became. It wasn’t until afterwards that I learned that riding a bike while under the influence is an offense, so it’s lucky we didn’t encounter any police. I was so sore for days afterwards that I haven’t looked a bike in the… er, reflector… since. So, not only was this idea illogical (as if I’d be warmer on a bike than on my own two feet), it was also quite impractical.

Except that Tom does have a bike. And I’m one of those people who, once I get a crazy, stupid idea in my head, I have a lot of trouble shaking it until I at least give it a try. So, after only five minutes on the couch, I went to the garage and found Tom’s bike. The thing with Tom’s bike is that it’s a racer – one of those very lightweight ones with the alarmingly thin wheels. Riding it is tricky, especially since the handles are just ridiculously close together, so that you wobble all over the place if you’re not going fast enough to balance properly. If you want to have your hands further apart, you have to lean right forward, bum up in the air, and hold the curly bits underneath the handle bar (that’s the technical name). Incidently, that’s also where the brakes are, so if you’re not keen on leaning forward in such a manner, then you’re going to have a bugger of a time stopping. Jumping off is a good option in this instance.

The bike.

Looking at the bike and its myriad inadequacies, a smarter, less-stubborn person would have calmly placed it back in the garage and moved on. Not me. I decided I wasn’t giving up until I’d at least sat on the thing and got it to move a bit. I took it for a little spin on the driveway. Straight away I could see that this was going to be very scary and difficult. I had no clue what gear the bike was in, and no clue how to induce the gears to change. I could see two levers that may or may not have been connected to the gears, but there were no markings, and they were located down on the bike’s frame so that any gear-changing would require riding along with only one hand. Which wasn’t going to happen, given the bike’s propensity to fall over whenever I dared to even think about letting go. The signs all pointed to giving up this silly scheme. “What’s wrong with walking, anyway?” I  asked myself. Well, nothing. But I don’t like admitting I can’t do something. So, I went ahead and left the driveway for a quick loop of my street. I didn’t fall off, so, emboldened by this success, I headed inside to change into more appropriate attire. I found a few items in Tom’s cupboard: some tights with nice, squishy padding on the pressure zone (the arse). Yes, these were definitely necessary. A helmet. Also necessary. A brightly-coloured vest for warning other road users of my presence. Hmm… on the one hand, I could see how this item was important as far as safety went. But, on the other hand, anonymity was the key, here. I live in a small suburb, shared also by my parents-in-law and their many retired friends, who like to go walking on beautiful, sunny days like this one. I wasn’t going out on any main roads, for safety’s sake (I had no idea what I was doing, after all), but more importantly, for fear of being spotted by someone I knew. So the vest remained in the cupboard, along with the shoes with clips that attach to the pedals. There was absolutely no way I was going to be connected to this bike with poorly located brakes. I wanted to be able to jump off if necessary.

The pants.

Clad in all my gear, I returned to the bike. I put my drink bottle in the drink bottle recepticle. I jumped on. I pushed off, and rolled slowly down the street, and down a hill. It didn’t take long for things to go wrong. I completely underestimated the hill’s gradient, and realised at the last moment that hard braking was required. Heart in mouth, I somehow managed to transfer my hands and apply the brakes without falling off. Once safely down the hill, I turned the corner and immediately was faced with a steep uphill climb. I started pedalling in earnest, but soon realised that this not-changing-gear-thing was not going to get me far. I also noticed that my shoelace was rapidly winding its way around my pedal, forcing me to jump awkwardly off the bike and detach myself from it. As I re-tied my shoelaces and tucked them into my socks, I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to learn to change gear, somewhere flat. It then dawned on me that there was nowhere flat… somehow, despite being a resident of the Blue Mountains for most of my life, it had escaped my notice that they are quite, well, mountainous, making flat bits quite tricky to find. I knew of only one in the vicinity… the little cul-de-sac on which my in-laws live. The little cul-de-sac where I knew my father-in-law would be that day, working on a deck at the back of his house. Already, my plan to stay incognito was looking dubious, but really there was no other option: I would just have to risk being seen. So I slowly pushed the bike up the hill and into the cul-de-sac. Then I rode around in circles for a good ten minutes, trying to figure out what gear I was in, and how to make the gears change. Once I could use at least some of the gears, I rode away from my in-laws’ house, happy to have escaped any notice so far.

Keeping to the back streets, I wound my way around, trying to avoid any big hills, but inevitably encountering many. Slowly, my confidence in staying on the bike grew, but my lack of control during gear changes was becoming an issue. It’s quite hard to change gear mid-wobble. Also, I’d had my first sighting of people I knew. Fortunately, it occurred on a relatively level section of road, so I was able to ride past them without letting on that I had no idea what I was doing. At least I hope so. But it seemed I had another decision to make. The back streets were simply too hilly for me. I had three options: a) go home, which would be very smart, but not very satisfying; b) put the bike in the car and take it somewhere flat to ride properly, ie. out of the mountains; or c) go onto the main road and risk being either recognised by oncoming traffic (shock, horror), or run over by oncoming traffic (marginally worse). Not wanting to admit defeat yet, but also being too lazy to drive somewhere, I chose option c), and turned onto the main road. Okay, I say main road like it might actually have lots of traffic on it, but in the interest of honesty, I’ll have to admit that our ‘main road’ has a speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour, no traffic lights or stop signs but one very scary round about (or egg about as it’s affectionately known – it is egg-shaped). But it was coming up to school pick-up time, so traffic was moderate. And remember, I’m completely incompetent on a bike, so this going onto the ‘main road’ thing was a huge leap to take. I only did it because it has fewer hills.

So, once I got going again, I decided I quite liked the flatter surface offered by the main road. I was comfortable enough to perform a few gear changes, and even lean forward to grip the handle bars properly, by the curly bits. But, the lack of hills had one unforseen drawback: I was building up a lot of speed! Funnily enough, racing bikes are designed to go quite fast, with little effort on the rider’s part. So I was rocketing along and becoming quite freaked out. Going fast was fun, but I was frightened of falling off at such speed. Broken bones, scraped skin, missing teeth and other nasty images flashed through my brain. I then became intensely aware of how grown up I am now. The last time I rode a bike (apart from the above-mentioned tandem incident), was as a teenager, back in the heady days of invincibility. Back when I knew I could get hurt by going so fast, but not really caring too much. I definitely cared now. So, I slowed down. As I slowed down, the houses and cars that were streaking past me in a blur slowed down and solidified. And I locked eyes with my father-in-law as he drove past. He recognised me (argh!), but at least he didn’t run me over. He also had the tact not to mention my extra-curricular activities the next time we met.

The remainder of the ride passed without incident. I managed to cover quite a lot of ground, and even work up a sweat in the process. But I have decided that racing bikes aren’t for me. Too flimsy. Too fast. Give me a nice, heavy mountain bike any day. And maybe even some training wheels.

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