Thursday, April 17, 2014

MODERN BIKES JUST AREN'T MY SPEED


 
Quite a few of my friends have told me they plan to take up bicycle riding this year for exercise. One even suggested I buy a bike and join her.

All I can say is bicycles and I are mortal enemies. I’d rather take up bull riding because in my case, it probably would be safer.

When I was a kid, bicycles were simple – upright handlebars, two pedals, a foot braking-system, a thickly cushioned seat, and two wheels with big, balloon tires. You also could add a basket to carry stuff in, or a bell or a light on the handlebars. Simple.

I rode my bike everywhere when I was a kid and really enjoyed it, so when I got married and moved out to the country, I (because I hadn’t yet learned how to drive a car) decided to buy another bike. The nearest food store was three miles from my house, so I thought it would be a nice bike ride for me.

The bike I ended up buying was considered state-of-the-art for its time. It had five speeds, a streamlined seat, and handlebars that resembled rams’ horns. The best part was it weighed only about half of what my old bike weighed.

Unfortunately, my first ride on my new bike left me feeling so terrified, I seriously contemplated scheduling an exorcism for it.

Back then, we lived on a street that steeply sloped down to a busy highway. The day my bike was delivered, I was so eager to try it, I climbed right on and took off, zooming down the hill. As the highway grew closer, I pushed my feet backwards on the pedals to slow down the bike before stopping it. Nothing happened.

I could see the cars zipping by at 60 mph on the highway below as I too rapidly approached them. I continued to push back on the pedals, trying to stop the bike. The pedals just kept moving backwards, showing no signs of braking.

As visions of my face becoming a permanent decoration on the side of an 18-wheeler sprang to mind, I remembered the bike had handbrakes. Panicking, I squeezed them both at once, as hard as I could. The bike came to a screeching halt. I, however, ended up doing something that resembled half a handstand.

If I thought getting used to handbrakes was a challenge, trying to learn when and how to change the bike’s speeds was even worse. Even though there were only five speeds, I didn’t have the slightest clue when I was supposed to use each particular one. Every time I tried, the bike made a sound that reminded me of some chain-rattling Halloween ghost. I finally gave up and just left it on the lowest speed for everything.

The problem with using only one bike speed, I soon learned, was trying to climb steep hills. It was about as easy as strapping cannonballs to my legs and attempting to hike up Mount Washington.

And I rapidly developed a strong dislike for the ram’s-horns handlebars, not only because of their strange shape, but also because they forced me to ride in a really unflattering position – with my butt up in the air. Every time I had to stop at a traffic light, I would cringe, imagining the view the people in the cars behind me were being subjected to.

I also disliked the poor excuse for a seat on the bicycle. Gone was the nice, wide, comfortably padded seat of bygone days. In its place was something that resembled a small triangle of hard plastic. When I sat on the bike, the seat completely disappeared. I looked as if I were sitting on just the post – kind of like a big human lollipop.

The old bikes used to have protective fenders over the tires to prevent mud and water from kicking up onto the rider. My new bike had bare tires. The first time I rode it in my hunched-over position during a rainstorm, so much mud and dirt got kicked up onto my back, I had a big black stripe running down the middle of my white sweatshirt. I ended up looking like a weird skunk.

My husband, tired of listening to me complain about my new bike, decided he’d buy one and go riding with me to show me how a “real man” could handle the modern bicycles of that era. So he bought a 15-speed Huffy. Not that he knew what to do with 15 speeds. He just wanted to look really macho.

Most of our first ride together was spent with him fiddling with all of the speeds on his bike, trying to figure them out. He concentrated so much on them, he nearly crashed his bike into a tree.

And the road we picked had so many bumps, I began to feel as if I were riding on a bucking bronco. My body was off the seat more than on it. After about the tenth bump, I prayed I would hit such a big one, it would launch me into a time warp that would take me back to the 1950s and the comfy, padded seat on my old Schwinn.

When we returned home from our bike ride, I asked my husband if he had enjoyed himself.“Well,” he said, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is I never want to torture myself again by sitting on that rock-hard slice of plastic they call a seat.”

“And the good news?” I asked.

“I think that last big bump I hit cured my hemorrhoids.”

 

 

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