Everybody says that riding a bike is one of those skills you never forget.
But I have not ridden a bike since my friend, Jeannie, and I were street rats in the mean suburban boulevards of Buffalo Grove, IL. We’d leave in the morning, and ride all day to places forbidden (like the abandoned barn we swore was haunted), coming back only for lunch at her house or mine. My bike was purple, with a banana seat, pedal brakes, and a horn I never used. Except for the occasional slipped chain or that one time I went too fast over gravel, my bike was just another part of me.
“I don’t know. You never were that graceful on the bike, even at your peak…” my father says dubiously when I tell him now that I am getting a bike.
Maybe he’s right to be cautious. This is Charleston, with crowded, bumpy streets very different from the wide avenues of my youth. At any moment, some tourist could wander in front of me, or some native might open a car door into me on the narrow streets. I remember a coworker in D.C. who had a fair amount of skin scraped off after a driver turned in front of him, sending him flying over his handlebars.
And, yet. I can’t walk everywhere. There are places I want to go that are too far for walking, too close for driving. So I buy a bike.
I talk earnestly with the young man selling bikes, a tattooed guy I just know races low on his bike when he’s not selling to me. He patiently finds me the perfect bike and promises to adjust the hand brakes so I’ll be less likely to flip.
On my first day with the bike, my husband, who’s been riding his bike to work for the past six months, takes me to a parking lot for maneuvers. I’m slow, awkward. My first trip to the grocery, I insist he ride with me. I’m afraid of falling, of failing. Even of inadequately locking my bike at the market.
We shop. I load groceries into my bike basket and strap on my helmet. And start to pedal. I loosen my death clutch on the handlebars. I breathe deeply. And suddenly, I’m flying.
Like so much in life, my fear loomed larger than reality. I feel free, tough. I am a biker chick.