Back in the (bicycle) saddle again

When I was growing up I rode my bicycle everywhere. Well, almost everywhere. I’m not sure why I didn’t ride it in the younger grades, maybe it wasn’t allowed. By the time I was in middle school, I carried my violin case to and from school every day and that just doesn’t fit in a bicycle basket very well. (There were days I wished I had chosen to play clarinet.)

But I rode it to the library – a trip I made often. I rode to the grocery store, the drugstore, the bookstore (my favorite), and the swimming pool. On summer weekends I went to yard sales (or tag sales, as they’re known in Connecticut where I grew up), trying to get to as many as I could find on a big circuit around town. Sometimes I just biked for the fun of riding, without going anywhere in particular.

As a teenager, one of the things I wanted very much was a ten-speed bike. I frequently made the four-mile trip to church on my old three-speed bike, and one of the hills was so steep that I could never make it without getting off to walk. If I just had a ten-speed, I thought, I could make the whole trip so much more easily, and no doubt faster.

I finally got a used ten-speed, and used it to get around during my first year living on my own, before I had money for a car. A few years later, I had the money for a used car and a new ten-speed bike. When I had a job only a few miles from home, I biked to work in good weather. (I worked in a hospital and had to change clothes when I got there anyway, so I didn’t have to worry about arriving in sweaty clothes.)

Then I got married, got a dog, had a son. I know there are people who manage to walk the dog while riding a bike, but I’m sure it would be a disaster if I tried it. I have enough trouble controlling an 80-pound dog with my feet planted firmly on the ground. So I got my exercise pushing the stroller, and later walking with my son to the playground.

Once in a while I got out my bike, especially when we were trying to teach our son to ride a bike, but I found it much harder than it used to be to swing my leg over that crossbar. (I’m not sure if I couldn’t find a women’s ten-speed or had been advised that the crossbar made it a better bike, but what I had bought was the men’s model.) After a while I gave up entirely.

Several years ago, determined to get more exercise, I found a women’s bike on clearance at Walmart. I don’t know exactly how many speeds it has – more than I’ll ever need. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the seat to stay at the height I set it at, and as I rode I found myself sinking lower and lower. Frustrated, I put the bike in the shed and left it there.

Last year I made up my mind to try again. There had to be some way to get that height adjustment to hold. But I couldn’t ride anyway — the tires were flat. I went out and bought a new tube for one tire (so as not to waste money on a second if I couldn’t figure out how to do the first one). I succeeded in changing it, but it took so much time and effort that I didn’t feel like tackling the second one yet.

The bike spent another winter in the shed. This summer I dragged it out, bought another tube, and changed the other one. Then I couldn’t get the bicycle pump to work, and discovered that the rubber had cracked in numerous places. Having spent money on a bike, a pump, and two tubes, without being able to ride anywhere, I didn’t feel like going out and buying another pump.

Today my husband pointed out that his EverStart battery charger has a built-in air compressor. Amazing how fast that filled my bicycle tires! I also found with surprise that the seat no longer slides down — I don’t know if that’s from the rust (from several winters sitting in the shed), but it was a welcome discovery.

So I found my helmet, rolled the bike to the street, and set off. Well, sort of. On my first try I didn’t pick up speed quickly enough to keep the bike upright. The second time I wobbled a little further. The third time I managed to keep going down the street, but it just didn’t feel right at all.

For one thing, the handlebars looked really strange. The dials for the gearshift were written backwards, as though they were meant to be read by someone facing the bike. And the brakes seemed to be at the wrong angle also. I got off and looked critically at it…. Aha! The front wheel was entirely turned around, and the handlebars themselves were backwards. I don’t think I ever had a bike before where the wheel could turn that far around. I wouldn’t have thought I could ride that way at all.

With the handlebars in their proper position, things went better. Somewhat. I think I must have messed up the gearshift when I removed the back wheel to fix the flat tire. Or rather, I didn’t know how to put things back properly when I put the wheel back on. I had hoped the chain would find its way to the right gear once I started riding, but apparently not. I can switch between some of the lower gears and up to one of the middle gears, but no higher.

I rode partway around the block, turned around in a big parking lot, then back the way I came to avoid traffic on the main road. I went the other way, walked across the other main road, and found some more side streets. I suppose I rode around a mile in all. And came home tired and breathing hard. I’m really not in bad shape (I did fifteen minutes on the elliptical at the Y without breaking much of a sweat), so I blame it on the bike.

Of course, not everything is the bike’s fault. I also noticed that even getting my leg over the much lower slanted bar of the women’s model takes some effort. Even if I decide to go out and get a better model (after all, you do generally get what you pay for), I’m stuck with the legs I have. Though, I suppose the right sort of exercise might help there. Maybe this Pilates class I’m taking at the college will help. But that’s a subject for another whole blog post.

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