I’d hate to see how I look when I’m getting on a bike. If I’m riding in a big group, I always make sure to savour the moment when everyone else is starting to mount their bikes too. I look down and start getting the pedal into a good position for the first push: not too far back or my feet slip off, not too far forward or I won’t have enough time to get the other foot on the pedal.
Then I look up, feeling like a pilot that’s just landed their first plane, and see that the other riders are already far ahead of me. That first pedal is such an involved process that it prompts most people to ask, “Are you sure you can do this Christian? Are you sure you can ride?”
Anticipating any bike ride once made me anxious, especially one I did at school after a disconcerting year of avoiding the activity altogether. Sympathetic teachers circled as they watched my wobbly start. They had doubts. My brain was certainly full of them. They were about to ask the question, when my body pushed my brain out of the driver’s seat and got us both out of there. My brain could finally relax. This time, I hadn’t forgotten how to ride. I would never forget how to ride. That was all I needed to know.
Bikes had become almost as safe as my netted spring free trampoline at home. I jump as high as I want on that thing, because I know I’ll always land on something nice and spongy. If only speeding downhill on a bike was the same. For a while it was a very guilty pleasure of mine. Going that fast was sinfully exhilarating. I felt so free yet so vulnerable. I had to trust that my hands wouldn’t twitch on the handlebars and toss me into the fence. I had to trust very pedestrian not to run into me. I had to trust that the other riders knew how to steer, and that they weren’t staring at my nervy riding.
That’s asking a lot. A few years ago that was asking too much. Or maybe I’ve always been the one with the unreasonable expectations. When I was 6 I expected to be able to cycle as quickly as a lamb becomes able to walk.
“Everyone crashes when they’re learning how to ride,” Dad kept saying after every tantrum I threw while he was teaching me to balance and steer.
When I was 10 I was happy to cycle, but not on a bike path.
“Where do you want to ride then?” Mum once asked me.
“The Poles,” I answered. “No people. No fences. No pointlessly narrow paths.” My mum loved cycling with me, but she hated sitting through these melodramatic monologues.
Still, my parents did enjoy riding with me. Somehow. I did also, I hated to admit. I was used to spewing up any sport that was shoved down my throat, and making a grand, slobbery show of it. I had declared war on all sports, but somehow bike riding had snuck its way across the border and made itself at home with me. Funny that.