Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Confessions of a Pedal Pusher

One of our friends recently bought a new bicycle that cost him a “mere” $1,200. I wouldn’t pay that much for a bicycle even if Brad Pitt were strapped to it and did all of the pedaling for me (well…maybe).

I honestly can’t understand why bicycles are so expensive nowadays, especially since they are nothing but stripped down, lightweight versions of their former selves. Back when I was a kid, bikes were solidly built and weren’t likely to be blown over by a strong gust of wind.

My first bike was a shiny blue Schwinn with upright handlebars (fashionably decorated with colorful plastic streamers and a flowered basket). It also had fat balloon tires, foot brakes and a wide, thickly padded seat.

I rode that bike everywhere, even up steep hills. Sure, it was a struggle, especially when I neared the top of the hill and had to stand on the pedals and use my full weight to force them to make each revolution. Grunting like an old sow seemed to help me get there, though.

The first new-fangled bike I ever owned was a five-speed that my husband bought for me as a surprise one summer.

I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but there wasn’t much I liked about that bike. For one thing, the seat was so small, it completely disappeared when I sat on it. Even worse was the embarrassing position I had to assume whenever I rode it. I don’t know too many women who are secure enough to enjoy riding with their rear-ends sticking up in the air and their breasts resting on the handlebars.

The first time I went soaring downhill on the bike, I tried to slow down by lightly applying pressure on the foot brakes, as I’d always done on my old bike. Unfortunately, this bike didn’t have foot brakes, so the pedals just went around backwards…and I continued to pick up speed.

As I whooshed past the scenery, everything became a blur. Visions of my legs sticking up out of a ditch at the bottom of the hill somewhere, a twisted bicycle wrapped around them, made me panic. I squeezed both handbrakes as hard as I could…and nearly wound up toothless.

Shifting gears also was something I never got the hang of. Too often I found myself pedaling furiously and going absolutely nowhere. Other times, I felt as if I were trying to tow a tractor-trailer. There seemed to be no happy medium.

The more I rode the bike, the more I longed for a thick, padded seat and handlebars that didn’t look like a ram’s horns. I also wanted a bike with fenders so on rainy days, I wouldn’t end up with a muddy stripe down my back that made me look like a giant skunk.

My dad, innovative soul that he was, decided to build a bike for me that he figured would be the answer to all of my problems. He took an old bike frame, welded a platform onto the bottom of it, and then set a car battery on the platform. The battery was used to power a small motor that turned the wheels and eliminated the need for pedals, which he removed.

To start the bike, Dad installed a doorbell button on the right handlebar. With one simple press of the button, I was zooming off at a whiplash-inducing speed of five miles per hour. The only problem with the bike was that it weighed a ton – a fact that I became acutely aware of when I was about a mile from home one night and the battery died, so I had to push the bike all the way back home.

“I’m not riding another bike until I get one like the one I had when I was a kid,” I finally told my husband one day. “Forget the 10-speeds. I want zero-speeds…and foot brakes.”

“But what about the bike trails around here, like the ones at Bear Brook?” he asked. “They are hilly and bumpy and curvy. They are made for mountain bikes, which is what you really should get. You’d never make it even 20 feet on one of those trails if you had an old-fashioned balloon-tire bike! Haven’t you ever seen those guys on their mountain bikes on TV, flying up over hills and bumps and soaring through the air?”

“I don’t want to fly up over hills and bumps,” I said, briefly imagining how the landing, especially on one of those hard, skinny seats, would feel. “Anyway, I can always just ride my bike along the side of the highway.”

He frowned at me. “Somehow that doesn’t make me feel a whole lot better.”

I finally sold my 5-speed bike. And I haven’t owned another bike since.

My knees, my back, and every bicyclist at Bear Brook State Park should be very grateful.