Monday, June 6, 2011

Let's go ride a bike!

When I first brought my lovely Olivia home, I had to relegate her to the basement because leaning her up against the closet door in the front hall gave my mother panic attacks. The paint scratches, tire smears, and dried mud splattered over her freshly wiped walls and floors was just too much of a threat. I didn't protest. I figured lugging my bike up and down the basement steps would be part of a natural sort of workout. I'd have sweet little biceps in no time.

Part of the appeal of vintage bikes is that they are really heavy. Made from steel instead of aluminum, they're sturdy, last long, and in many bicycles, create a smoother ride. I didn't exactly forget this. I was just being optimistic, trying to look at the brighter side of things. I'd definitely get a good workout. I wouldn't ever have to lift weights again. Why should I? I'd be lifting my incredibly heavy bike. It would be a necessary and virtuous act that would condition my muscles and teach me the value of hard work. Right.

The stairs to our basement consist of two landings that require me to heave my bike up four steps at a time, then turn it at a 90 degree angle while simultaneously heaving it up the next set of stairs. The corners are too tight for large objects, and the landings are prettied up with shelves and flower arrangements making it all a little too clunky for me and Olivia. I grunted, twisted, and was generally surprised at my lack of athletic prowess. I managed to find a sweet spot along the seat post that would let me lift the bike with relative ease, but a combination of several awkward angles--the walls, my positioning, the bike itself--cramped me up and more than once, I stood on the verge of panic, imagining a painful and prolonged death-by-beautiful- bike. R
ather quickly, my virtuous exercise turned into a frustrating and awkward endeavor.

Still--still I might have put up with it. I wanted to ride my bike and if tumbling up basement steps with a knot of pent up aggression was what it took, then I was willing. One morning though,
I noticed a twinge in my lower back. It burned right at the base of my spine and sparked all day, reminding me that I was doing it all wrong. All that twisting and turning, that erratic lifting, that reckless bending at the waist instead of the knee--it smirked at me with a callous warning: Stop it. Stop, or we'll serve you with a slipped disc and two weeks of immobility.

And still--I would have done it. I would have adjusted my lifting method, done warm-up stretches, practiced even. I would have soldiered on. Anything to make sure I was out there in the streets, pedaling in glory. But, when you keep a bike in a basement, lifting it up and down a set of stairs may be cumbersome, but it isn't the real problem.

Montreal, QC

If it's in the basement, it's out of sight. And give it long enough, it'll soon be out of mind. Really, having Olivia in the basement was depressing. Unless I made the rare trip downstairs to do laundry or collect a few onions, I didn't see her. She stood sulking in the shadows alongside boxes of old records and an old bird cage, those glorious sun rippled dreams of coasting along parkways dimming into the dust-webbed realm of failed hopes. I realized very quickly that if you're looking to incorporate more cycling into your daily life, the best way to set yourself up for failure is to put your bike in a place that is physically inconvenient and visually out of reach.

Olivia, contemplating a ride into the waning light.

So, I brought her up. I brought her where I could see her everyday, baskets ready and flowered up, front wheel cocked to the side, whispering, "A ride, shall we?" If I need to go to the store, there she is. If I'm pondering an evening ride, ah, Olivia. If I've been lazy, there she is prodding guilt into my gut. It's simple, if I see my bicycle, I ride my bicycle. And that is the point of it all, isn't it?

And so, after an evening ride through winding trails, I come home and park her where she belongs. There she is in our front hall, kick stand in place, leaning gently into the stairs, so careful not to dent the walls, or smear tire tracks into the paint. She is all lady-like charm.

Griffith Park, LA

Now, when the sun glints off the front window in that dewy hue, I can just pick up and go--straight out the door and into the world. Perfection.

Images (respectively): Peter Heillman, other images are mine.

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