I remember my first bike ride. It was shortly before I could ride a two-wheeler of my own. But my first cycling outing did not take place in one of those pediatrician-approved baby bicycle seats, a toddler bike trailer, or even a tandem bike. No.
Just before I learned to ride, an older girl on my block would take me for a spin on her Huffy Spyder bike with me sitting backwards on its banana seat. Bravely, I hung onto the u-shaped metal bar of the seat and waited for her to push off the curb. I marveled how she could balance us both on those two wheels. I remember watching the pavement roll away from beneath the wheels and feeling that uneasy tilt in my stomach when she made an unexpected turn, all the while assuring me that she wouldn’t fall.
Do you remember getting a ride like that, on a friend’s bike? Hanging on for dear life either on the back or riding on the handlebars? This was the 1970’s. This was before all the worry about safety and helmets. These days, finding kids riding like this or without a helmet is enough to warrant a call to Child Protective Services.
When I want to feel young, I ride my bicycle. I’m not an avid, up-at-dawn, century riding cyclist. I just like riding around the block, just like I did when I was a kid. All it takes is coasting along a stretch of flat road, the sound of the wheels spinning to take me back to childhood and the thrill of learning to ride a bike.
I learned when I was seven or eight. My parents got me my very own Huffy Spyder, complete with an iridescent banana seat and handlebars with streamers. And, a white woven basket decorated with flowers.
At first, I rode with training wheels but my dad at some point decided it was time to ditch them. So, he held onto the back and ran behind me as a pedaled. I started to get the hang of it, enough so that I guess dad felt confident enough to stop and talk to some neighbors – and let go. I went for a while, not realizing he wasn’t there. Riding straight was easy. Stopping was not.
After I crashed, dad encouraged me to get right back on.
May was Bike Month. Many communities around the continent hosted “Bike To Work” Weeks. My town, Rochester, NY was voted by Bicycling.com magazine, as one of the top 50 cities in the country to bike to work. Okay, so it came in 50 out of 50, but still, that’s pretty good for a town that sees an average of 90 inches of snow a year.
It’s no wonder that biking is one of the best ways to get fit. In fact, in a recent article, studies showed that biking increases happiness, suppresses appetite, and is just plain fun. And, as gas prices edge towards $4 per gallon, biking also saves money and is good for the environment.
But I didn’t have any specific reason in mind when my husband and two sons set out for a bike ride late in the afternoon over the weekend. We just wanted to spend some time together on a ride to the library to return some books, and maybe go a little further. And in the late spring air, zooming around the quiet streets of our town, I imagined myself anywhere: Cape May, Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard…we smelled the remains of the lilac bushes, fresh cut grass, and whatever was being grilled in someone’s backyard.
As we biked throgh the side streets of Brighton, my sons discovered where classmates live. We also stopped by the house of an older couple we knew. They are well into their 70’s. As they saw us pedaling by their house, the woman turned to her husband and said, “Now, why did we get rid of our bikes? We need to get new ones. There is no reason why we can’t ride too.”
In addition to chatting with our neighbors – something you can’t do while speeding by in a car – we discovered shortcuts that we wouldn’t have thought about while driving. A useful one ambles along quiet, curved streets and ends up at a traffic light that allows for safe passage into Buckland Park, one of Brighton’s newer recreation areas. This park contains, you guessed it – lots of bike paths. This will be very useful in the school free days ahead.
But bike riding with my kids reminds me that in reality, I am definitely no longer a child. Instead of feeling completely carefree, I am barking very grown-up, mom-like orders such as: “break at stop signs!” or “DON’T dart out into the middle of the road! That’s how you can get killed!”
Another reality that brings me back to my current age after a childlike bike ride: the ache in my very middle-aged knees.
What do you do to feel like a kid again?