Monday, April 11, 2011

Riding circles around me

Little boys wore ties to birthday parties in 1962?

I was thinking the other day about all the bikes I’ve had over the years.  My very first “bike” was a red Western Flyer tricycle that I got for my fourth birthday.  I grew up in Connecticut and my birthday falls in the middle of January, so my first experiences of riding were in the living room.  I don’t think indoor riding privileges lasted much beyond the day of my  birthday party, but I do remember riding that shiny new red trike with a great deal of pride. 

Next in line was my first 2 wheeler—a 20” red bike that could be either a boys bike or a girls bike depending on the position of the cross bar.  In the early 1960’s bicycles were black, acceptable only to boys,  red or blue with  the latter two colors acceptable to either gender.  We didn’t even conceive of  purple or pink,  let alone  Disney Princess or Barbie themes.  Yup.  The choice was pretty much red, blue or black.  And I seemed to have a natural inclination toward red bikes. 

In fact over the years, I have loved five bikes and every one of them has been red.

Of course, my first love was my red tricycle—my first wheels.

Second was my first two-wheeler.  It may have looked like an ordinary red bike, but in my mind it was the Batmobile.    Jerry Corcoran was Batman;  I was Robin and we rode up and down Ireland Road wearing yellow plastic Bat Utility Belts, capes flying behind us in the wind. The power we needed to protect Gotham City came from baseball cards clipped to the spokes.

After I outgrew the 20" bike and childish Batman games,  I had a couple of nondescript girls bikes. The first was a blue girl’s one-speed that my Dad later painted orange.  In late high school I got a greenish gold girl’s 10-speed bike, much like a present-day hybrid.  Both were fine bikes and I used them to ride to my friends’ houses, to school and to the library, but they were simply transportation.  I rode to get someplace, not for the joy of riding.

That changed when Al and I were in graduate school.  Al had done some fairly long distance rides with friends in high school and college, but it was as graduate students that we began to take our riding seriously.  Fifty or sixty mile rides were common summer Sunday events, usually involving pancakes at the Etna Firehouse, where for a couple of dollars a couple of kids could fuel up for a long day of riding in the steep  hills surrounding Cayuga Lake.  It wasn’t just us either; many  of our friends were cyclists.  None of us was interested in racing—it was about distance and touring.  I was still riding that greenish gold hybrid bike, but by then Al had purchased his first racing bike – a red Motobecane Mirage.   In my second year of graduate school, I joined the ranks of the cool bikers and bought a red Fuji Sports 10—a 10 speed racing/road bike.  And I was in love.

We rode hundreds, probably thousands, of miles on those bikes.  All around Nova Scotia, day trips in the Finger Lakes, around the Thousand Islands.   We lived in Ithaca, New York at the time;  I was a chemistry doctoral student at Cornell, and Al was earning his MBA at Syracuse University.  We lived a just a couple of miles from Cornell, making it easy for me to walk or ride my bike to campus, while Al used our only car to commute the 60 miles to Syracuse.  One summer day in 1982, I had ridden to school, but for some reason, I walked home.  Al’s bike was locked to a railing outside our second floor apartment and that night, someone cut his lock and stole the bike.   We notified the police, but it never turned up. 

By then, biking had become a very important part of our lives.  We loved the freedom of riding- that wonderful rush of riding like the wind.  In  “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” Robert Pirsig wrote about the difference between traveling  by car and on a motorcycle.  He notes that traveling by car forces you to see the world through the frame of the windshield and that the world thus framed is just more boring TV.  But on a bike (he means motorcycle, but even more so on a bicycle) you can experience the world surrounding you.  On a hot day, you can tell when there is a stream nearby, even if you can’t see it because you can feel the humid cool air.  You can feel the heat of the road, and smell the dank dampness of the woods.   Bicycles are quiet enough that wildlife does not flee upon your approach—we have seen wolves just a few feet from the side of the road,  felt the snap of bird wings a few feet from our heads.  Instead of just seeing the world outside the window, you experience the world fully and directly and it is simply delightful.

(Ok.  Time for a reality check.  Al read that last paragraph and thought it a bit romantic.  He reminded me of the night we rode north from Halifax as dusk was falling.   The traffic was very heavy and the shoulder was very narrow.  Under those less than bucolic conditions, we  heard the snap and felt the crunch of bones breaking as we were forced to ride directly over a long dead cat.  Fully experiencing the world?  I suppose so.  Simply delightful?  Not so much.)

Anyway, Al  clearly needed a bike.  So, off to a local bike shop we went, and found a really nice 12 speed black Lotus racing bike.  After a test ride, he was so enamored with it that I sold  my  Fuji Sports 10 and bought a red one almost just like his. 

And our love for bicycling grew.

And the miles piled on.  

We rode those bikes from Seattle, Washington to San Francisco, CA, crossing the Cascades several times.   We rode to Mount Ranier, Mount St. Helens, Crater Lake, the Redwoods and south along beautiful coastal  Highway 1 in California.  We rode those bikes around Newfoundland, did a winery tour of the Finger Lakes region, and countless day trips.  In fact, almost 30 years later, we still have those two bikes.

But lives change.  We had kids and didn’t get out on the open road very often. As the kids learned to ride, our biking was pretty restricted to short rides on rail trails.  I no longer enjoyed the stiff harsh ride of a road bike, and got lower backaches from being hunched over.  So about 10 years ago, I bought a very nice white hybrid bike.  At first, I really liked the upright posture and softer ride.   In truth, I had gotten a lot softer too and no longer felt so inspired by long distance bike riding.

Al maintained his bicycle fitness much better than I did.  He kept up by riding in the 150 mile bike ride for Multiple Sclerosis each year, but didn’t ride all that much at other times.  He is not the sort of guy who buys new toys readily.  He thought his bike was adequate—after all he had been riding it for nearly 30 years and it had served him well.   Two years ago, I was riding behind him on a rail trail and noticed that the crank made a disheartening clunk on every stroke.  I seized upon the malfunction to convince him that he should get a new one.  (Actually, I told him I was going to buy him a new bike and he had a choice of picking one out himself or leaving it to me).  He test rode a number of bikes and finally bought a beautiful white Trek road bike. The technology certainly has changed.   The frame is so much lighter, and the components are so much better.  Shifting happens on the handlebars now, not low on the frame.   It was a remarkable improvement. 

And lives change.

About three years ago, I decided to improve my overall fitness and lost a bunch of weight.  Two years ago, I started riding the MS150 with Al, and found that I enjoyed it again, at least mostly.  It was hard to keep up with him—partly because he was in better shape and partly because he was riding a light nimble road bike and I was riding a heavy wide-tired hybrid.  The hybrid was more comfortable, but I NEVER  felt that exhilaration of riding that I felt on my old Lotus road bike--the feeling that the bike was working with me, that  the wheels became my wings and  the effort disappeared and I was flying.    The feeling of riding like the wind.    Of being the wind.   On my hybrid, biking was usually fun, but it was never amazing. 

I wanted amazing.  But, I remembered the lower back pain of the racing bike.  I wondered if I could get used to the dropped handlebars again.  After all, I am 50 something years old; a middle aged mother.

But I wanted amazing.

I did some research and discovered that many manufacturers are now making road bikes proportioned specifically for women.  I read that the nagging back pain I experienced was probably because my trusty red Lotus was the right height for me, but the reach to the handlebars was too long.  And I decided to try again.

I rode the Lotus toward the end of last summer to see if the racing position was even possible and I was surprised to find myself adapting to it easily.  And this year, I decided to try out one of those new fangled, high tech women’s road bikes.

The end of this story is predictable.  A new Specialized road bike, proportioned for women, light and nimble, joined the family last week.   I took it out for a pretty good test drive and fell in love with cycling all over again.

And of course it is red.

Now if they could only do something about those seats!

Today I am grateful for all the wonderful experiences we've had on our various road trips (except, of course, for the dead cat incident) and am looking forward to many more.

Dad, me and my first laptop!

All my life's a circle
Red trike to red bike
I started blogging early
when I was a little tyke...

(but that is another post....)

1 comment:

  1. Congrats! Of course red.
    Have you done the shoes and pedals. too? I am contemplating that this year. Yay for biking, just rolling out the drive on my bike makes me smile,
    Sweet photos, too.