Last May, I woke up one morning and realized that I live in Portland, Oregon, one of the most bike-friendly cities in the U.S. And yet, I had become one of those typical folks who drive everywhere. Including my 4 mile commute to work, to my younger son’s daycare, to my older son’s school, etc. My older son’s school, by the way, is five blocks from my house. How embarrassing! When did I get so lazy?
People in our neighborhood ride the coolest contraptions. They ferry their kids around on Xtracycles, family tandems, and box bikes. While trailing a tag-a-long bike and a Burley trailer. I wanted to be one of those smug, healthy parents who set a good example for their kids! I wanted to get out into the (admittedly fleeting) sunshine! I wanted to ride!
The only problem was that I am terribly afraid of crashing.
Years ago, before kids, when I was a youthful 20-something, I had a little red road bike that I rode everywhere. Including straight into a curb at full speed, and over-the-handlebars I went. Ouch! I replaced my sadly bent fork, but I never enjoyed riding again. Then my little red road bike got stolen. Ouch. I replaced it with an ill-fitting hybrid that sat unridden in my garage for the better part of 15 years. Alas.
I needed a fresh start and a new lease on biking. I visited some of Portland’s many bike shops, and I learned about Dutch-style bikes. Safe, comfortable, and upright. Just my speed! I kept my eyes peeled for a deal on Craigslist, and I eventually found a beautiful, virtually unridden Electra Amsterdam Royal 8i. For cheap! She was lovely! I had found my bike!
I brought the new family member home, and lovingly polished her to a sparkly shine. I took her for a spin around the neighborhood with the biggest grin on my face. She had a wide, springy seat, upright handlebars, generator-powered lights, a cheerful bell, and, most importantly, she rode like a tank. Totally stable. I loved her smooth, steel ride, and her fancy internal gearing. I loved her retro style. I loved everything about her. I quietly confessed to Beloved Wife that I might “work up” to bike commuting. She was cautiously supportive, but was a little shocked when I got up early the next morning and took off on two wheels. And so, my adventures in bike commuting began.
Beloved Wife was inspired by my biking feats and found herself a little celeste blue Bianchi Cafe Racer. Younger son was already riding a Strider bike, and Older Son made the transition to two wheels, too, so we were off to the races. Well, our version of the races, that is. The Fam and I decided to ride in the Portland Bridge Pedal in July. None of us had ridden more than about 4 miles at a time, but how hard could it be? We decided to be cautious, and selected the 6-bridge event, which was the shortest route, at 13 miles, 20 door-to-door. By this time I had acquired a Burley trailer for Younger Son, and being the more adventurous one, I offered to pull it.
Beloved Wife, though 13 years my junior and considerably more fit, is also considerably more sensible than I am, and opted to travel light. So off we went, huffing and puffing over Portland’s beautiful bridges. Well, I was doing most of the huffing and puffing, truth be told. As BW zipped ahead of me, and I downshifted until I had no more gears, it dawned on my that I was pedaling an incredibly heavy contraption. Small children with training wheels were passing me. People in motorized wheelchairs were passing me. I was incredibly grateful for all of the photo ops atop each bridge. I needed a chance to catch my breath!
The final climb back into NE Portland nearly did me in, but I rode the final 4 miles home without stopping. It was a fantastic experience. But holy heck, was I tired! Though I could barely stand, I insisted on hauling the bathroom scale out onto the driveway and weighing all of the gear that I had just hauled 20 miles. The tally was an impressive 100 lbs, with the bike itself tipping the scale at almost 40 lbs! Whew!
I went inside, fired up the laptop, and started my search for a zippier bike. Maybe a nice, sensible flat bar hybrid?
To be continued…