I should begin this by making a small confession: I don’t know how to ride a bicycle.
I suppose that’s why the phrase, “It’s as easy as riding a bike,” has always gotten on my nerves.
It’s not that I never had an opportunity to ride. I grew up on a tree-lined, suburban New Jersey street – the perfect place to cruise around on a two-wheeler. Also, my parents had always made sure I owned a bicycle: a pink one, festooned with ribbons, equipped with a little flower-covered, plastic basket to hold my goodies. Perhaps they thought I would somehow teach myself to ride. However, being born the agility of a pile of rocks, this plan never quite came to fruition.
During a good part of my youth, my Dad was getting a graduate degree. (I won’t mention which. That’s his business.) As such, when he wasn’t working at his day job, doing his weekend gigs or attending class, he would spend the remaining hours of the day and night studying in the family basement, which was not so affectionately called, “The Pit.” As such, the time we spent together was always at a premium. So, we tended to spend it doing things we both enjoyed – chatting about music, talking about history and trivia, fiddling with the computer, eating fried foods at the local diner and shooting the crap about nothing in particular. Often we would do the latter while walking Barney, the family dog, along a high, grassy walkway that overlooked the Garden State Parkway. (I carried the pooper-scooper.)
Both bookish and decidedly un-athletic, I suppose the ritual of “Dad Teaching Daughter/Son to Ride Bicycle” just escaped our notice. That is, it did until my mother nudged (perhaps badgered) Dad to teach me to ride – sans training wheels.
So, the next Saturday, Dad (most likely bleary-eyed from a late-night study session) dutifully grabbed a trusty wrench, twisted off the training wheels and loaded my pink wonder bike into the family station wagon. Then, we buckled up and drove a quarter mile to my elementary school. Dad figured the empty playground, smoothly paved with black asphalt, would be a good place to practice my skills.
You may be closing your eyes right now and imagining the perfect Norman Rockwell picture – proud Dad clapping as knobby-kneed daughter rode on two wheels for the very first time. You couldn’t be more wrong. Instead, it happened more like this…
The first twenty minutes were spent strapping on multiple types of neon-yellow Velcro padding provided by my well-intentioned Mom. There were the knee pads, the elbow cuffs, wrist bands…the list goes on. Then, I, puffed up like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, managed to waddle over to the bike and throw myself on the seat. Then, Dad explained to me the fundamentals of bike riding. We discussed the principles of physics, the properties of balance and the fundamentals of coasting. I dutifully listened and asked insightful questions. This went on for about forty-five minutes.
Keep in mind, we were now there over an hour and I didn’t even ride the bicycle.
Essentially we were both operating on the same (very flawed) principle: If you explain things properly, it makes them easier to do. Dad and I figured that an intellectual discussion would help me magically discover my own sense of balance. My God, were we wrong!
I eventually did get to ride that day, albeit badly. Dad watched patiently and smiled as I rode in large counter-clockwise circles around the lot. (Never quite understanding the principles of balance and steering, I tended to veer to the left.) Somewhat surprisingly, I didn’t even fall, although with all the padding on I probably wouldn’t have noticed. I even managed to bump into a log and lose the car keys Dad had stowed in my little Strawberry Shortcake basket. (We later found them amid some crab grass and broken bottles at the edge of the lot.)
An hour or so later, we hopped in the car to take the short ride home. Although we enjoyed the time together, I think we were grateful to get back to the house and do what we did (and still do) best – eat and chat.
That was the last time I rode a bike.
This summer I’ve decided that it is about time I try it again.
I’m investing in the best helmet money can buy, grabbing my dear hubby, swallowing my fear (and a bit of pride) and taking, what I hope will be, a very good ride.
Please keep your fingers crossed for me – and Band-Aids nearby.