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I have this picture in my head of cruising along the waterside, a little wicker basket attached to the front of my pink one-speed bike. In the basket: a bouquet of flowers, a growler filled from a local brewery, and a baguette leaning over the edge. When I’m feeling extra ballsy in my daydreams, I also imagine myself wearing a large straw hat, and a chic Parisian fit of a navy and white striped shirt, a Hermes scarf, and perfectly tailored trousers. As a pedal along the sidewalk, everyone will wave as I pass, a “bonjour” will be thrown out by a few of my closer acquaintances, and I’ll take one hand off the handlebar momentarily to blow them a kiss.
This is one of my favorite fantasies to play repeatedly in my head, and also the least likely to ever come to fruition. In reality, any flowers nestled in the front would be petal-less or fall out before I got home. I would be covered in sweat, garbed in an old tee shirt and the jogger sweatpants I stole from the lost and found in high school and still wear. No one downtown would show any display of pure friendliness and the general public doesn’t speak French in Central Pennsylvania. The last time someone smiled at me in the city and I smiled back, he followed up asking if I wanted my ass ate. Thanks, but no thanks.
These details don’t match up with what’s in my head, but the biggest hindrance to this plan is the fact that I don’t know how to ride a bicycle.
Somehow, the most common childhood skill managed to escape me growing up. I have vague memories of my dad trying to get me going on a two-wheeler and then falling over sideways every time. Apparently, I had no desire to learn, and inner ear problems had my balance messed up enough that the lessons just stopped. At some point in middle school, I think I was finally able to get upright and move for a short period of time, but starting and stopping was a shit show.
In college, I was badgered into going on a trail ride with some friends. I insisted it wouldn’t end well, and I also explained that I didn’t own a bike and wasn’t going to pay to rent one. I ended up going on the trip. I borrowed an extra bike at least 5 inches too high for me from someone in the group. It was a miserable day. I fell over dozens of times, ran into trees and rocks, and was miles behind the group for the entire ride. This too tall bike also had the narrowest seat in existence. Had my hymen still been intact, it would have been destroyed by the end of the trip.
But now, I have decided to change the tides. I’m going to become one of the assholes taking up the entire shoulder of a city street and doesn’t signal when they’re turning. I will transition into a bona fide cyclist.
When I spoke of my plans to my boyfriend, he was super concerned. He voiced his opinion that downtown city streets are not the best place to learn to ride a bike. I assured him that baptism by fire is the best way to pick up a new skill. Eventually, I relented and agreed to get my feet wet at a local park first. As soon as the weather gets warm, I’ll find a way to cram a bike into the back of my petite Volvo and start practicing. It’s sad to be an adult making shaky lines in a public space. However, I am a big advocate for not letting embarrassment or social stigma keep you from doing something.
It will likely be difficult to learn so late in life, and I’m anticipating lots of frustrated moments and temper tantrums. I’ll see it through to the end though, because I really really want to pedal around the city with that baguette in a wicker basket. Plus, I’ll be learning a marketable skill if I ever want to make the career switch to local food deliverer.
I already have my new baby picked on online, along with a matching helmet, a bike lock, and a book on the history of cycling just for kicks. In just a few weeks, you’ll find me coasting along next to the Susquehanna, showing off my newly trained skills. If anyone has tips to shoot my way, go for it. I can certainly use all the help I can get..