Tuesday, September 27, 2011


They say that once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget.

Dear "They,"
Love, Shane.

When I was a kid, I loved to ride my bike. Well, okay: when I was a kid, I loved sitting in air conditioning watching HBO and playing Ultima IV on my Apple II. But every once in a while, my parents would mandate that I unplug myself from the information superhighway and go (gasp) play outdoors.

As far as I was concerned, the outdoors was little more than a hot and humid sanctuary for snakes, bugs, bees, things that suck your blood, and things that just plain suck. Quickly, I discovered my favorite outdoor pasttime was riding on my bike -- that way, if any of that pesky nature decided to come a-callin', I could get on my bike and just pedal away to safety. As a result, I pretty much lived on that bike whenever I went outside.

But I also had an over-protective mother who assumed that since her son was now in possession of wheeled transport, he would immediately ride it into traffic kamikaze-style. Let's not, at this point, forget that I grew up on a 50-acre lot off a tiny paved road in rural Galesburgian nowheresville, and the nearest thing that could even be loosely defined as "traffic" was about 1.5 miles away from the house. Still, my mom felt it best that I not be allowed to ride my bike on the "hard road" without parental supervision. This meant I had to stick to the gravel driveways, yards, and hills of Brown Manor.

The upside of this dilemma was that I actually kinda got pretty good at off-road biking. I would set up mock courses and hold time trials. I could take downhill corners at wicked speeds and live to tell the tale. On our farm, I could ride circles around my friends. For a while there, I actually had leg muscles.

Then I turned 16, got my driver's license, and that was the very last time I ever climbed aboard my bike... until now.

To put it mildly, I'm sick of my ever-expanding belly. I've now reached the age where I can no longer sit on my couch, watch TV all day, and expect to maintain my socially acceptable slightly chunky figure. Over the past five years, I've gone from out-of-shape to clinically obese to Fatty McButterPants. My official wake-up call was when I had to recently go buy pants at a Fat-Dude store, and that's not cool.

(And, FYI, if you own a Fat-Dude store, why would you employ a sales clerk who looks like he just stepped out of an ad for Men's Fitness? I had to talk to this guy and be like, "Hey, can I have the key to the fitting room to try on these pants?" but what I FELT like I was saying was: "ME LIKE COOKIES! FATTY NEED KEY SO HE CAN TRY ON SMALL TENT WITH LEGHOLES! CAN YOU HELP FATTY FIT THROUGH DOOR?")

Obviously, me and exercise are not the best of buddies, but something needs to be done before the news of my death includes the phrase "the body had to be extricated from the house with a crane." That's when it hit me: Once upon a time, I'm pretty sure I actually enjoyed bike riding. Let's give it another shot.

I had mentioned to my mom a few times that I'd like to get my bike up here, and every time she'd say, "I'm not sure if it'll fit in the car, I'll have to talk to your father" before swiftly changing the subject. I recently figured out that it was her same over-protective streak flaring up, and her belief that the entire Quad Cities is one big "hard road" for me to get killed upon. So the other day, I circumvented Mom and went straight to Dad.

"Sure, I know right where it is! Let me tune her up and I'll bring it with next time we visit!"

Two weeks later, my Schwinn Sidewinder, looking good for her age, was sitting in my garage.

Eagerly, I jumped aboard... and almost fell headfirst onto the pavement. This did NOT feel right. For one, it was SO FAR OFF THE GROUND. HOW did I ride this thing as a kid without the constant fear of death? The bike was tall, the pedals were tiny, the tires incomprehensibly narrow... this wasn't an exercise tool, it was a deathtrap. That's when I looked up and saw a kid whistling to himself as he pedaled past me with no hands and not a care in the world. I CAN DO THIS.

I took the bike to the grassiest section of my lawn. "No," my girlfriend chided me, "get out here in the alley."

"Nope," I said. "I need a better cushion than concrete right now."

Bravely, I pushed off, made one full rotation of the pedals, weebled, wobbled, and ALMOST fell down. I turned around and did it again. And then again. And again. After a few minutes, I was marginally convinced that I could keep the bike upright, so I took it onto pavement. It's a good thing there's seldom traffic in our alley, because I weaved from one side to the other, but somehow I kept the bike afloat. The only drawback is that, in tuning up the bike, my dad must've gotten grease on the brake pads, because every time I hit the brakes, it makes a noise like a Canadian goose being horribly, horribly violated. But I stayed upright.

After a couple days of back-and-forthing in the alley, I finally got brave enough to go on my first bike ride with my girlfriend. We just rode around the neighborhood, I'd say a total of maybe ten blocks. By the time I got home, I was covered in sweat from head to toe and my hands were numb from gripping the handlebars as tight as humanly possible. Worse yet, I climbed off the bike and... how do I put this in a family paper... let's just say it felt like I'd just been on the losing end of a fight with a rabid feral proctologist, and my particular losing end needed an extra couch cushion for the next 48 hours.

I walked up the back steps to the house. Well, no, I guess I didn't. I got TO the back steps, I know that. And my brain definitely issued the command to my legs to step UP the back steps. But my legs just kind of plodded forward in a non-vertical manner and I almost fell face-first onto said back steps. Eventually I made it to air conditioning and recovered.

And then I did it again. And again. And again. And when I get done writing this column, I'm gonna go do it yet again. I'm up to about 20 blocks now before I think I'm about to die, so we're making progress (although I really DO need to look into getting a padded seat - how on EARTH did I not spend my childhood walking funny?) Once I get a little less wobbly, I'll try the bike path down by the river. Heck, maybe I'll even bike to work one of these days.

So maybe the adage is right and you DO never forget how to ride a bike... there's just a slight learning curve for the coordinationally-challenged. Wish me luck... and please, if you're driving and see a sweaty mound of fat cycling in front of you, give me a wide berth. I'd hate to prove my mom right.

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