Just like riding a bike

Originally published on This Logophile Life, July 22, 2018

Whomever coined the term “like riding a bike” assumed there was a certain level of coordination and skill to begin with.

He (or she) might have picked an activity that’s impossible to forget, even for those of us who are sorely uncoordinated. Finger-painting, for example. Blowing your nose. Pouring milk in the cereal bowl.

Because one thing that’s not just like riding a bike, ironically, is riding a bike.

Not in my experience, anyhow. At least not a road bike. Maybe he/she meant just like riding a Huffy?

Sure, I rode a bike as a kid. And yes, the training wheels came off at a respectable age. I must have been decently adept because many weekends I’d zip off on my bike in the morning and be off riding and playing with friends most of the day. I don’t remember ever being stranded at the other end of the neighborhood because I couldn’t make it home on my bike.

But all of that was of no help when I decided to buy a road bike five years ago after a twenty year hiatus from riding. “Where’s the kickstand?” was my first question.

My aunt accompanied me on my inaugural ride on my new grown-up bicycle. We covered maybe eight miles at a top speed of 10 mph – and that might have been on a downhill. Mostly we practiced stopping.

I dropped the chain twice. I spent more time riding the brakes than pedaling and I was terrified of cars, parked or otherwise.

As I proudly crested the lone hill on our second training ride, I asked her what she’d rate that hill on a scale of one to ten.

After a long pause, she gave it a two. My face fell. “Maybe two and a half,” she added generously.

A few weeks later, I decided I was ready to add clipless pedals to the bike. Which, in my opinion, is a confusing misnomer because clipless pedals are the type that clip to your shoe. Clipless is the “abridged” of the pedal world.

Friends will tell you clipping in is easy. They’ll say that everyone falls once, but then it’s like finger-painting. Keep in mind these are the same friends who can hit a tennis ball and ski without doing the pigeon-toed snowplow formation.

On my first attempt, the bike and I fell sideways into the grass. On the second, we toppled to the sidewalk. On the third, I crashed into a massive tree. Bloodied and defeated, I quietly wheeled Fuji back into the house.

It wasn’t always pretty but I did get back on. I made do with the clipless pedals for awhile, even when it meant pedaling with only one leg for three, four, ten miles because I couldn’t get the left shoe clipped back in.

After a couple bad falls, I eventually gave up on the pedals and went back to “normal” pedals with toe clips (the kind you don’t clip into). If they were good enough for the first 80 years of the Tour de France, they’re good enough for me.

I gave the clipless shoes and pedals to my sister, who only fell once. She’s one of those people who can hit a tennis ball and ski properly.

Still, I celebrate each little victory.

Like the a-ha moment when I realized how to shift gears to get up those hills. (It only took three years and a couple thousand miles.)

Or the first time I took my water bottle out of its holder without stopping. (Getting it back in place was, however, problematic so I just held onto it for twenty miles or so. It only took a few days to regain use of my thumb.)

Obviously, I still have much to learn but I love cycling so I’ll keep working at it. I aspire to pointing out potholes to riders behind me and standing up on my pedals on really steep hills.

And then, ever after, riding a bike will be just like pouring milk in the cereal bowl.