Sunday, April 11, 2010

Falling hurts, but there's nothing like getting back in the saddle

It is said, once we learn, we never forget how to ride a bike. Sadly, there's an exception to every rule.

It was a constellation of reasons that finally got me through the doors of a downtown bike shop last year. Skyrocketing gas prices were one piece, a desire to reduce my carbon footprint was another, but the straw that broke this camel’s back was spending my lunch hours in a weight room.

I loved how I felt after working out, but I absolutely hated doing the deed itself. I was desperate to find some way to enjoy it, so I bought a bike with the intent of riding it to and from work at least three days a week.

My wife and daughter went out of town a few days after I brought the bike home. It was perfect. I would be able to ride my bike to and from work and escape the ridicule of my spouse when I came home dragging ass and looking like a pathetic excuse for manhood.

When I struck out that first morning, my knees were shaking as I pulled onto the road alongside passing cars. But I made it up all the hills without having to get off and walk the thing. I was one empowered individual striding into my office that morning.

I also knew of another certainty: fours bucks a gallon would be a freaking bargain compared to the aches and pains just beginning to make themselves known.

Still, I couldn’t wait to ride home. It felt so good when quitting time arrived. I strapped on my helmet, cued up my iPod, which now had a special playlist titled “Commute,” and hit the road.

I was still uncertain about bike lanes, and the ones on North Lancaster are far from my favorite, so I was sticking to the sidewalk as much as possible. I was doing just that when a woman pulling her child in a wagon stepped out onto the sidewalk about 30 yards ahead of me.

I pulled off the sidewalk into the bike lane to pass, and then made a move to ride back up onto the sidewalk. This is why I hate the North Lancaster bike lane. Between the asphalt of the bike lane, the curb, and driveways there is a 10-inch gully that dips down an inch or so. When I rode into the gully and tried to ride back up into a driveway the back tire rode the edge while the front kept turning.

I skidded to a painful halt about eight feet later. I fell on my keys, which left puncture holes - not rips - in my pockets and on the outside of my jeans. I fell on my phone, which, amazingly, didn’t explode into plastic shrapnel to be removed from my leg. My right elbow was a bloody, pulpy mess. Fortunately, my iPod was in the other pocket.

As the woman strode past me with her child in tow, the best I could muster was, “Gotta watch those curbs,” and bleeding profusely.

Epic. Fail.

Made the trip home in absolute agony and humiliation, trying to look unphased, and hoping no one noticed the trail of blood I could feel dripping from my arm.

I rode to work again the next day no less proud that I’d done it. A year later, I still ride to work on occasion, and now that the weather is turning more predictable, I’m hoping to come up with a more regular schedule for pedal power commuting.

The keys and phone now go in a saddle bag. In the right light, I can still see the scars on my elbow, same goes for the scratches on my bike.

I prefer to think of them as proof of ruggedness, but I still love my bike.

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