I don’t remember my first bike, but it was probably a hand-me-down. I wanted but never had a bike with sparkly handlebar streamers. I never had a pink banana seat or those decorative daisy decals that were popular in the 60’s I imagine my bike was navy blue, since it first belonged to my older brother, and I rode, perhaps up and down the driveway, or up and down Woodland Road. No further than that.
I remember being five and perched on the back of my dad’s brown balloon-tired bike. We were heading down Scranton Avenue on the way back from the beach, our Lake Michigan slice of heaven. My legs were scratchy with sand, and I was balanced on the metal rack, my sticky legs dangling, while Dad and I were singing. I don’t remember exactly the moment when my little ankle got caught in the revolving spokes, but do remember the searing pain. I still have the scar today, smooth and pink like the inside of a baby bunny’s ear.
I became a cautious biker from then on.
The Sensible Bike
When I was allowed to ride my bike off alone, away from my mother’s watchful eye, I rode straight to Mr. White’s and bought penny candy and chocolates. Decadent wonders to be scarfed alone, to fill me, to ease my own anxiety. Our local five and ten was less than a mile from home, which was the furthest I would ride for many years.
My adult bike was sensible, periwinkle blue with upright handlebars and a comfy seat. I always rode on the flat local bike path, usually four miles in one direction, or four miles in the other. I knew every turn, every tree, every bump on that route, from which I did not deter. My husband liked routine too, and we hitched first a baby seat, then a preschool trail bike to the back of his bicycle for our Sunday morning family eight mile rides.
Falling in Love With an E-Bike
I’ve moved and live in town now, where I ride my sensible blue bike to the library and bank, or to visit a friend. It’s doubtful that my typical bike ride is anywhere near eight miles these days. Maybe I am down to five or six max at this point. But I’m older, I tell myself. I don’t want to fall off and break something. I know many people, even my age, claim to ride 80 miles up, or a mountain in a day, but I don’t like to sweat, so find no allure in thoughts of that exertion.
Meanwhile, I’d been eyeing new electric bikes for months, but think they’re too extravagant. I read reviews, and ponder why I need one, when my sensible non-motorized bike is perfectly functional and gets me from point A to point B. I’d learned never to spend money wastefully on things like that. Function is most important. A Toyota gets you to your destination just as easily as a Mercedes. My periwinkle bike was like the workhorse Toyota. Yes, it was 25 years old, but old was good. Not extravagant. Sturdy and sensible, just like me.
My kids snickered and said e-biking isn’t real riding.
Then I went on vacation in the Northwest. I rode e-bikes, up and down previously impossible hills, and didn’t arrive at the top sweaty and panting. One day my brother and I rode 34 miles. 34! I had never ridden 34 miles in one day and was exhausted but exhilarated. From the bike, I saw the icy tip of Mount Rainier peering over Lake Washington. Rivers and hills came to life. The world looked so different from the bike, the wind brushing my cheek.
When I told my kids about my ride, they snickered. That’s not real bike riding Mom, they said. You’re not really doing anything.
No, no, I implore. An electric bike isn’t a motor scooter; it’s just got a pedal assist. You’re still pedaling the whole time, but get a little power boost for hills. Your legs still get tired. You’re still exercising. The next day I told them I rode 28 miles. They didn’t seem too impressed, but I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. Over the week I rode over 125 miles, which was more than I had ridden in the previous five years.
Sleek and Stealthy
When I got home, I thought, I will just go look at e-bikes. Take a test spin of different kinds. I was still not convinced that I wanted to spend that money. It made more sense to have an e-bike in Seattle, I told myself, where there are dozens of bike paths. Maybe it was too wasteful. But I was hooked, and within two weeks of being home, I purchased an e-bike. I’ll teach or tutor extra hours, I told myself, still not used to buying expensive things for myself.
On my e-bike, I can go wherever my will takes me.
My new bike isn’t sensible. It’s sleek and grey, stealthy like Catwoman. When I ride, I experience an almost indescribable sense of joy and freedom, as if I were a young teenager again. I can go wherever my will takes me. As I pedal over a bridge, I watch the sailboats dotting the river below. On a ride in the wildlife refuge, I witness the tree swallows swooping in and out of the salt marshes. Each day is an adventure, where I go farther and farther from home, not always having a coherent destination before I start.
People stop me and ask a lot of questions about my new bike. As a result I’ve witnessed the kindness of strangers. I’ve been welcomed onto a local farm to see miniature horses. Invited to pick plump blackberries. I was led back to a main thoroughfare when I got lost on an unmarked gravel path. When riding my new bike, I’m not worried about my children, climate change, the pandemic, or my future. Aging is just a concept in my rear view mirror, reminding me that one is never too old to overcome fears and try something new.