Just like riding a bike, all over again

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By Stephanie Hornback

It’s true that you never forget how to ride a bike. I learned that Sunday. But you can forget how to do it well.
I can’t remember the last time I was on a bicycle before last weekend. It was at least 20 years ago. I was 15 then and I’m sure I thought I was too cool to ride a bike.
I’m not too cool anymore. The problem now is I’m not cool enough. My wobbly riding proved that as soon as I got up the nerve to get on the bicycle and take off.
My reintroduction to cycling probably would never have happened if it had been left up to me to initiate it. But my boyfriend took matters into his own hands and bought me a bike. He had heard me say I thought it would be neat for us to start riding bikes because it would get us outside more and would be a fun way to exercise.
I didn’t know he took me so seriously, but on Valentine’s Day I walked outside to find a shiny new bicycle with a basket on the front filled with flowers and a heart-shaped sucker. Very sweet. I wouldn’t use “sweet” to describe what came later, however.
Knowing I had run out of excuses to not try out the bike – bad weather, headache, too tired, etc. – I gave in Sunday. We got out our bicycles and I rolled mine to the road. I wouldn’t ride it down the driveway because it’s on a hill, which scared me. I didn’t want to lose control.
Once we were on flat ground, I was still afraid of losing control. I was wearing a helmet and wasn’t concerned about life-threatening injuries, but I envisioned a dramatic tumble bringing me lots of embarrassment and pain. I made myself hop on anyway and was pleasantly surprised to find I could still keep a bicycle upright.
My technique showed its 20-year hiatus, however. The front wheel just wouldn’t stay straight. I probably looked like I was trying to ride it across a high wire. I had a death grip on the handlebars, and by the end of the ride, my index fingers and thumbs were numb. They didn’t feel so great the next day either. Nor did other areas of my body that didn’t agree with the bicycle seat, even though it’s really cushiony and has hydraulics for bumps in the road.
I didn’t feel the discomfort while I was riding because I was too intent on not crashing. My boyfriend kept trying to point out houses he liked or other things that interested him along the way, but I finally had to firmly tell him I couldn’t look to the side. I had to keep my eyes on the road to make sure there were no obstacles and that my front tire was straight. He laughed as he effortlessly rode his bicycle, which didn’t make me feel any better. He also took me on way too long a route for someone who hadn’t been on a bicycle in 20-plus years. I guess I’ll let it slide since the bike was such a nice gift.
How did I ride bikes with such ease when I was a kid? I never gave a second thought to keeping my front wheel straight. And whatever was in my path – mud puddles, gravel, tobacco sticks, ditches – got run over with glee. Where did those skills go?
I still believe I’ll once again become a competent bike rider. I plan to get to the point that I can look forward to my next ride instead of regarding it as something I have to do to be polite to the gift-giver.
At the end of our ride Sunday, I was sore and shaky, but uninjured. There were no wipeouts. I guess that’s pretty good after two decades.
Stephanie Hornback is assistant editor at The Kentucky Standard and a former graphic artist for The LaRue County Herald News.