Tuesday, April 23, 2013

In which I learn to ride a bike

It was the day before Easter and the snow was finally off the ground. The streets were clear and it was time to get my new bike off the trainer and on the road.

The bike had been in the trainer since late January, right in the middle of the living room, where I could pedal my heart out and watch guilty-pleasure TV. Yay, cycling.

However, my upcoming races weren't going to be held in my living room, and it was time to actually have the rubber meet the road.

My oldest wanted to take her scooter around the neighborhood, so I decided to accompany her on my bike. I didn't bother dressing in my cycling gear, we were just screwing around for a bit.

So dressed in yoga pants, sneakers and a sweatshirt (no helmet), I threw my leg over the crossbar, put my left food on the pedal and pushed off. I had put in hours on the trainer - hell, I was clipping in and out on that sucker by feel and with aplomb - so surely this would be a walk in the —

Oh. Fuck.

Broken free from the safe, secure and steady embrace of the trainer, this motherfracking bike and I were like Bambi on ice - off balance, wobbly, hurdling ahead and about to go down.

When I pushed off, the bike took off. It's a racing bike, it's light and fast. Capital F. I could get little balance and the front tire was bucking from side to side like it was having a seizure. This is not my 1978 banana-seat Huffy with the chopper handlebars, this mofo is built for speed. Literally.

Panicked - because I was not about to go down from Jump Street, especially in front of my daughter - I maneuvered the bike over to the curb and planted my right leg, no brakes, all desperation - very nearly crotching myself on the top tube in the process.

What the hell was that all about? I know how to ride a bike. What is wrong with this demon cycle? Or me?

I exhaled, glanced around hoping my neighbors didn't witness that cluster and tried to figure out how to ride this damn thing. What was I doing wrong?

I took off again and while slightly more steady, I was still more off-balance and wobbly than I expected. My center of gravity seemed off, the bike turned on a dime and, again, flew off just one pedal stroke.

I took a few passes around the cul de sac, not feeling in control. Plus, I was worried about my yoga pants getting caught in the gears, God, even my clothes were conspiring against me. I hopped off and wheeled this beast into the garage for another day, entirely spooked. I can ride a bike. What am I doing wrong?

What have I gotten myself into? was seared into my brain. You could almost smell my desperation in a post on the Lifetime Loser Facebook page.

Round 2

The next day, Easter, my daughter was itching to take her scooter out again. She wanted to me to go with her and automatically I said, "Yes, I'll get my bike." Then doubt set in. Hard. I was tempted to put off the short ride because, frankly, I didn't want to get back on the horse that metaphorically threw me. Seriously, what if I could not ride this bike?

I'll ride tomorrow, I thought. Yeah, that intention has historically worked really well for me. Thankfully, I recognized this as the mother of all stall tactics.

I decided I need to get back on that bike immediately, so I did. This time I wore my helmet and cycling shorts. I still wore sneakers, I had to get the basics down on this sucker before I even harbored the thought of clipping in.

She scootered around our neighborhood and I rode. Slowly. I got used to the balance between my body and the bike.

I figured out, small step by small step, how to ride this thing. Where to position the left pedal, so I could push off but not take off flying. How to get myself up in the saddle without catching the padding of my bike shorts on the seat (easy, lift your ass up and back, dummy). Now, let's do these both at the same time.

Next, where to position my hands. I realized my big problem from the day before was I had my hands on the top of the handlebar by the stem - a habit from childhood where the brake levers traditionally were. But on this bike, there are no brakes up on the handlebars, they're down on the drops (where the handlebars curve, the traditional racing position). I instinctively put my hands not only in a spot with little control or balabce, but no way to brake.

When I held on up middle top, controlling the handlebars and, therefore, front wheel was difficult. The front wheel would wobble side to side, like the bike was shaking its head, "No." Hence the wobble. Moving my left hand down to the drops gave me control and stability. Ah ha, that's much better - there's the control.

OK, now let's put this all together: left hand down on the drop, left pedal in the correct position, push off, lift your ass up and back onto the saddle in one swift motion, lower your torso, put your right hand on the right drop and go. There, all of a sudden, was a smooth start. I almost looked like a knew what I was doing.

I took a few laps of the cul de sac just working on this. Stop. Get down. Start over. Pedal a bit. Stop. Repeat. Once I felt better, I'd do a lap, then learn how to brake gently, gradually, without sending myself over the handlebars or bruising my most private, cherished places.

I did laps for about 20 minutes. Then I got a feel for the gears. I knew them cold in the trainer, but here in the street, it was almost back to Square 1: shifting up and down through the gears, smoothly, without sounding like I was tossing a box of wrenches, one by one, into a fan.

After a half hour my daughter and I headed home and I immediately felt better. It wasn't pretty, but it was a damn sight better than it was just 24 hours before.

Next stop: Leaving the neighborhood.

1 comment:

  1. Never, never, never, never under any circumstances never ride without a helmet. Never. Unless you want to die.

    Sorry, i am only a few paragraphs into your post but i saw the part about no helmet and it made me freak out a little. please don't ever ride without a helmet. even if it is just in your neighborhood. anything can happen. especially if you are in yoga pants! rule 1) always wear a helmet rule 2) never wear loose fitting clothes unless you can strap them and prevent them from catching...

    ok, enough of the lecture- i will go back and finish your post :)