Because I've been so wishy-washy about looking for a car, my friends have been at me to ride a bike as an alternative to all the walking I've been doing. (Perth, being the outdoor city that it is, has an amazing network of dedicated bike paths that can take anyone almost anywhere.) And since I've become fairly more fit since I got here, everyone believes I can probably handle a bike. After all, it's supposed to be a skill that you never forget once you learn it.
However, due to my inherent pessimism (and my kinesthetic stupidity), I wasn't about to buy into that last assumption blindly when I hadn't been on a bike for almost a decade. Besides, in all things there were exceptions, and I was pretty sure that the exception would be me.
For one thing, I wasn't one of those kids who grew up with a bike. My parents were on the verge of buying me one when I was around six, at the time still blissfully ignorant of the fact that their eldest child was athletically challenged. Just to see if I was ready for a bike of my own, they borrowed my next-door neighbor's bike with training wheels, put me on it - and I ended up tipping over and hitting my head on the gutter and getting knocked out. The details of that fateful afternoon are fairly sketchy to me for obvious reasons, but I do know it warranted an emergency room visit.
Needless to say, my parents never considered giving any of us bikes ever again.
After that debacle, the next time I even got near a bike was in high school. Learning to bike as an adolescent presented one major dilemma: the absence of training wheels. You just had to hop on a two-wheeler even if you didn't know squat about keeping it upright and pray you didn't tip over and get crushed under it. And we aren't even counting the humiliation factor in. Surprisingly, I did learn to bike eventually - in the parking lot of PICC on a rented BMX. And, by some miracle, managing to do so without any memorable or remarkable spills.
Me being me, I was completely charmed by the wind on my face as I rode, the relative speed of it, and being able to indulge my inner wanderlust. I was hooked, and even not having a bike of my own could stop me. Borrowing our neighbor's BMX bike, I used to tuck my hair into a cap, dress like a boy, and ride around our subdivision almost every afternoon. I even tried to move on to an adult bike - a mistake which I paid for with some considerable embarrassment when I rode into the neighborhood tennis wall because it was too high for me to stop with dignity. Despite this minor setback, I kept at it until the end of that summer - but had to give it up once school started once again. I only got to ride again a handful of times after that, when my cousins and I would hire bikes on weekend outings with the family. I'm fairly sure that I hadn't been on a bike since college, at the latest.
Hence my understandable reluctance to get on one again - let alone make it my primary mode of getting around.
Happily enough, I've just spent my afternoon proving myself wrong and the adage right.
There's a certain symmetry between past and present to have my very first bike ride in ten years on a friend's borrowed bike in an empty parking lot. With no training wheels, of course. Just armed with a helmet (required for riding anywhere in WA) and a prayer, I wobbled my way into the first round, completely forgot my brakes, and almost ended with a spill.
I may have looked like a crazy overgrown kid to all passers-by, going round and round the parking lot with no apparent purpose or destination in mind. But it was worth looking a fool to feel the speed of it again, with the wind on my face washing over my huge grin at knowing that I could still do it.
No, I'm not ready to get out on the bike paths just yet. Fingers crossed, a few more sessions in the parking lot ought to do it. But once I get the hang of things - I'll probably be on my way to owning my very first bicycle.
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