They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle, and it’s true. I know because I put it to the test. When I was a child, I lived in a rural area of Illinois, and I practically lived on my bike. We had rolling hills to fly down, homemade jumps to launch from, and a series of winding one-way streets that we knew like the backs of our hands. Of course, now I live in blazing-hot Phoenix where for five months out of the year riding a bike is like soaking yourself in gasoline and lying down under a large magnifying glass: It’s going to end with you carrying your roasted nuts home in a thimble. And so, between work, and kids, and the weather, and living in a city where everything is very, very spread out, I soon found myself not having ridden a bicycle in 20 years.
This situation was rectified by my mom, who bought me a mountain bike for Christmas one year. My mom lives on a very fixed budget, but in typical mom fashion she cashed in some credit-card bonus points (or whatever the credit card companies give you these days to help you forget how much you’re getting ass-raped), and soon I found myself in the garage, assembling my bike and flashing back to my youth, by which I mean cursing at the fucking bike chain.
It is 2013. Have we not progressed enough so that we can figure out something better than the bike chain? If that fucker isn’t falling off, it’s eating your goddamn pants. Imagine if your car was like that. You’d be driving down the road and all of a sudden your engine would fall out. You’d have to get out, flip your car over, and put it back in. Or you’d be driving along when all of a sudden your pants would get pulled into the engine compartment. (Police do not buy this excuse when they catch you driving without pants, incidentally.)
Anyway, I put everything together, wobbled around the driveway quickly to make sure I hadn’t left any important pieces out, like the frame, and put it in the corner of my garage. Later that evening, I had friends over, and we found ourselves drinking in the driveway (always a great way to irritate your neighbors) when the subject of my new bike came up. This prompted an extremely drunken bike ride around the neighborhood which culminated in me flying down the street and crashing into a pile of boxes in my garage at high speed.
You never forget how to ride a bike, exactly, but with a little chemical help you can forget about important things like braking.
After that, my bike lay more or less untouched for quite a while. When I moved last December, I took it with me and it sat in the garage for some time, in good shape, just a couple of flat tires. Finally, last week, I decided that it was kind of ridiculous to have this nice bike taking up space in the garage if I never used it, and so I filled up the tires and took it for a spin.
Let me state for the record that I fully expected my legs to feel the burn after not having ridden a bike for so long. I mean, I hike major miles in the mountains and walk several miles each day, so it’s not like I’m out of shape, just not used to using those particular muscles. Actually, my legs were fairly burn-free, but I noticed every single hill that I went up like it was Mt. Fucking Everest, and if you’re familiar with Phoenix, you know that the entire metro area is really flat, so we’re talking about hills with a grade of 0.000001 degrees.
“What the fuck is up with this goddamn hill?” I’d mutter under my breath as kids on fucking tricycles would fly by me. And then I’d go down a similar “hill” and feel like Lance Armstrong with a new batch of oxygen-rich blood he copped from a virgin. It’s a flat neighborhood, but somehow age has allowed me to detect almost impossibly small inclines. Maybe I should rent my services out to a surveying team or something.
Foreman: Ok, this is flat. Let’s go ahead and start building the children’s hospital.
Me (riding up on my bike): Wait! (heavy breathing) Hold on! (panting)
Me: (more panting)
Foreman: (builds entire first floor of hospital)
Me: Wait! (panting) This land isn’t entirely flat! (falls over)
The other thing I noticed is that bike riding kills my ass. When I was a kid, I had a BMX bike, which I used to try to kill myself at every opportunity. I rode it everywhere, and I mean everywhere: I rode it off the roof of my Junior High school. It had a rock hard plastic red seat, and it never bothered me in the slightest. The seat I have now is the same shape, but has some foam padding on it. It feels like I’m sitting on giant barbecue forks.
What the fuck? I don’t have a particularly flabby ass or anything, but I’ve got an ass: I’ve got some padding to add to the padding provided by the seat. Why the fuck does sitting on a bike seat hurt so much all of a sudden? You’d think that as I got older it’d be easier to sit on a bicycle seat, but apparently that’s not the case. So as I ride down the street with toddlers passing me on Big Wheels, I’m also constantly saying “Owww!” and looking at my seat expecting to see razor blades or something. It’s pathetic.
“You need to build up a callous on your ass,” a coworker advised me. A callous? Yeah, that’s fucking attractive. Maybe I can grow a giant hump on my back too and complete the transformation to Quasimodo. A callous. I work with a bunch of fucking wise-guys.
So I put the bike down for a few days before trying again. Either I grew an ass-callous in record time, or maybe I just stopped being a fucking pussy because it wasn’t that bad this time around. I still feel every tiny incline like it’s a formidable Himalayan peak, but I figure that’ll fade in time as well. Now all I have to worry about is having so many speeds available to me that I crash into a parked car while trying to figure out what gear I want to be in.
When I was little, there were two speeds on a bike: Hauling ass, and skidding to a stop. As I grew older, I got a 10-speed which I thought was cool after I saw Breaking Away until I realized that I was never going to catch a semi on the highway unless I got run flat by one. Apparently, as you age you get more speeds because my bike has twenty-one speeds on it, or at least it does in theory.
Speeds 1 through 6 seem to totally disengage the chain from the gears because my legs pump furiously but I can’t gather enough speed to run over a small pebble. Speed 7 seems to work like a normal bike speed from my youth. Speeds 8 through 20 are apparently used to drown out passing car noise by emitting horrible grinding noises (I should probably adjust the gears). Speed 21 engages suddenly and allows me to rocket forward with frightening speed, usually just as I approach an intersection. And because I apparently crashed my bike as a child without wearing a helmet, I’m brain damaged to the point where I cannot help but look at the gears while changing them, even if I’m approaching warp speed in front of a major interstate.
Me: Ok, first speed does nothing, I’ll just… (brushes parked car, swerves, hits neighborhood cat)… What the fuck is that grinding noise? (rides through front door of neighbor’s house, out the back door, back onto road behind house)… Maybe I should just… (crosses 16 lane highway, causing multiple accidents)… Well, 21st gear is tiring, but I can really fucking fly… (accidentally wins Tour de France)
And I don’t notice any of it because I’m stupidly looking at the gears the entire time.
Maybe I’d be better off reliving a different part of my childhood to get my exercise. I bet I haven’t forgotten how to climb a tree.