I have a new bike, and when I ride it, I feel free.
When I was very young, I had two traumatizing bike accidents which left me terrified of going down hills. That’s what happens when you live in a neighborhood made entirely of steep hills, and when your non-mechanically inclined father thinks he installed brakes on your little Strawberry Shortcake bike that you recently started riding without training wheels.
As a teenager, I lived in another neighborhood of hills, and I rode my ten speed around with my friends. There weren’t many other girls in that neighborhood, but there were a couple of guys I hung out with. We’d ride bikes to each other’s houses and play basketball or just hang out. But then two things happened: I moved to a far away state where I knew no one, and I turned sixteen and got a car. My bike riding days were officially over.
I don’t think I rode a bike again until my mid-twenties, when I started dating a guy who was into mountain biking and talked me into trying it (yes, that was Will). I bought a used mountain bike off of a friend of his, and we began to ride together. I was still terrified on hills though, as the little girl who still lives inside me would scream with terror every time I looked down a steep one and remembered how it felt to be on an out-of-control bike, the pedals spinning and spinning without me touching them and my father running desperately after me trying to stop me before I crashed. He never caught me.
I enjoyed the mountain bike though, because riding it made me feel like a child. Look how fast I can go! Look at all the places I can go! I’m free, I can go anywhere! That mountain bike and I had a lot of adventures, including exploring a boarded up and abandoned city in the middle of a hurricane (Houston, Hurricane Rita).
I gave it up eventually though, in favor of a Kona AfricaBike, which, in my opinion, is the greatest commuter bike ever built. I loved my AfricaBike. I loved riding it. I loved that it was steel and heavy and black, and from a dead stop I could blow away any roadbike. I rode that bike for three years of law school, and just loved the freedom it gave me. I didn’t have to pay hundreds for on-campus parking. I didn’t have to wait in line at a parking garage. I could just hop on my bike and go. When Wildling was old enough, we bought a trailer for it, and Will and I suddenly had the ability to take her to the park, take her along the river path, take her to bike festivals. Then one day Wildling and I were walking out to the carport to go somewhere and I noticed something wrong. There was a cut bike lock on the ground, drag marks in our gravel driveway, and no bike. I was absolutely devastated.
I did replace my original AfricaBike with a new one, one that I sold today. I never loved it as much as the original, perhaps because my heart was too broken to be fixed with a newer model. But lack of love is not the reason I sold it. No, I sold it because a couple of weeks ago, I got a new bike, one to transport the children and me: An Xtracycle Edgerunner. I may say that the Kona AfricaBike is the greatest commuter bike ever, and I mean that. But the Xtracycle is the greatest cargo bike, and best child-friendly car substitute available.
The kids love it, I love it. Part of the reason I love it is because when I ride a bike, I still get that feeling of being free, of being young and happy and having access to the whole world. I can feel the wind in my face and I can go where I want.
Wildling loves it. She loves when I pick her up from school by bike. Her little friends are jealous. They see me when I ride past the school’s window, and they have asked her when they can have a turn. Magnanimously, she has promised all of them that I will one day give them a ride. I won’t, actually, but it was nice of her to offer my services.
Mellow loves it, too. The other day I told her we were going for a bike ride, and she grinned, jumped up, and took off running for the back door. Of course, I had to chase her down so I could put a diaper on her, and she screamed in frustration. She even says ‘bike,’ one of her very few vocabulary words, and she’ll point at the shed door and try so hard to reach the handle. While she rides she is usually quiet, but I sometimes hear her babbling and chirping away.
When we ride the bike, we get to interact more with people. Pedestrians wave at the kids. People smile and comment as we pass. When I park, people come up to me to ask about it. Does it ride well? Is it a comfortable ride? How’s the balance with kids on it?
I imagine, as I pass cars stopped in long lines at intersections, that the drivers are looking at me with envy. I’m outside, getting exercise and enjoying the beautiful weather. I am powering my own transportation. They are breathing stale air and listening to their children complain from the backseat, while my children are learning about balance and have unobstructed views of the world they travel through. I imagine that this is what drivers are feeling, because it is how I always felt, trapped in a steel cage while cyclists glide by freely.
I know the freedom I feel on the bike is mostly an illusion. It takes me longer to get places, and I have to be much more concerned about theft when I finally arrive. I can’t really go off-roading, and I must follow the same traffic laws as everybody else. But I feel free. I feel energized. I feel powerful.
I love my new bike.