“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” ~ H.G. Wells
*This one is for Waylon.
Pretty sure it was a red and white Radio Flyer. It had to be, right?
I remember madly pedaling it around, in circles, with my big-headed, gnarly-haired, blonde baby doll nestled inside the white, plastic basket up front, winking at me in time whenever I hit a bump. It was slow and safe because my legs were becoming a bit too long. A hand-me-down from my brother, my “first bicycle” was not really a bike, it was a trike. A trike was for babies, and I was a becoming big girl.
The real deal showed up in the garage one day, for no particular reason, like sparkle sunshine magic. It was for me. For me! My “big girl bike” was actually a little one, with training wheels that scraped alongside for weeble-wobble support, and I couldn’t wait to give her a spin.
People often remark that I have a good memory for details, and I will never forget the day I learned how to ride a real bike. Who does? I can still picture my father teaching me, in the flat road in front of our little white house on Mount Tom. He coached me and gave me the requisite pep talk straight from his mental “how to be a great dad” playbook. He told me the best way to learn was to simply pedal fast.
Training wheels are intended to build confidence, but confidence has nothing to do with training wheels. Confidence arrives the moment we take them off to see if we’ve got what it takes.
It didn’t take long, because ahem, I was a natural. I vividly recall my dad running behind me, grasping the seat, his young-man legs pumping like a locomotive, pushing, yelping, willing me to do it, in fact telling me over and over, “You can do it!”
I remember his voice imploring me to “keep pedaling, keep pedaling Kimmy!” until yes, yes, yes, miraculously, suddenly everything clicked and I was doing it—I was flying down the road, all confidence, and grit, and exuberant determination, my father a diminishing, blurry figure slowing to a stop, triumphantly raising his fist in my dusty wake.
That damn feeling, the feeling of making my father proud and at the very same time making my own damn self proud, has never left this particular daddy’s girl.
Formative, significant moments count, and this is precisely when my starry-eyed love affair with bicycles began. I think this “second one” was pink.
In the blink of an eye, my “third bike,” a shiny, cobalt blue Schwinn appeared. It was bigger, with all the bells and whistles, including streamers and a long banana seat with a rounded chrome backrest. I rode that 70s badass bike everywhere. I wore out my tires pedaling to Butera’s for candy and snacks. I was never bored. My legs grew sleek and strong all summer long as I rode back and forth to the turnaround in my neighborhood, and down the hill to do the loop around Bonny Brook Drive when I was feeling more adventurous. I was always taking off to the Smyrski Farm, or going “all the way” to Merryall Chapel, Tamarack Road, and that big, brick manor house with the Amityville Horror windows. Sun up, to sun down, I loved being on my bike.
Around my 13th birthday, I received an awesome surprise. We kids were working in the yard, and my brother was bothering me. An argument ensued, which forced my dad outside to see what the commotion was about. I didn’t know it was part of the plan for him to take my brother’s side, but he sent me to my room for “being fresh.” The unfair verdict had me steaming mad, and I stomped into the house, angrily slamming the door to my room where a brand new 10-speed bike was just sitting there, dead center, next to my bed. I screamed and jumped up and down with joy while my dad smiled from ear to ear, because he “pulled off” his prank so beautifully. Through my tears, I laughed with relief, and promptly fell in love with a bicycle all over again.
In college, I bought myself a cheap mountain bike, and brought it with me to campus. Predictably, it was stolen from the stairwell (where it was chained) and I felt violated by asshole, beer-money hungry thieves with zero human decency or integrity. It would be many years before I would start regularly riding a bike again, but when I did, I realized quickly what I had stolen from myself by not getting back on a bike sooner: my own simple, unencumbered happiness.
When I turned 45, my husband bought me a brand new bike. A specialized, hybrid “Globe” with a basket (because I wanted one). Make fun all you want, but for me there’s no shame in the basket game. I’ve never been a “cyclist.” I don’t care about training or compression shorts or water bottles with skinny nozzles. I just like to ride.
And ride, I do. Miles and miles and miles later I know this: There’s just something about a bicycle.
I think it beautifully represents the individual journey, and the work we put in—the stuff we do by ourselves, to “get there.”
It’s about stopping for beauty and inspiration along the way, just to indulge our senses.
It’s about the glory of the downhill after a laborious uphill climb.
I know I’m not the first person to wax poetically about a bicycle. It captures the human spirit in a way nothing else does.
At least it has for me.
Being on a bike checks all the boxes: exploration, meditative repose, mindless meandering, determined physicality, eco-friendly transportation, and independence.
Being on a bike, for any reason, is really about life itself.
It’s about going at our own speed, down our own path with or without a basket.
I think the best part about riding a bicycle is the fact that it makes me feel young again. As I move myself along, wind in my hair, sights and sounds and smells in every direction, my worries and troubles (big and small) seem to fall away, transporting me to a place of peace—where all the heavy human stuff isn’t strapped to my back. On my bike, I feel wild and free and alive, and if that’s not a feeling worth seeking, I don’t know what is.
For all of us struggling with hardship, loss, or melancholy, for all of our aging aches and pains, our unfairly dealt hands, our exhaustion, and our disillusionment, for all of us wallowing inside our sorrows, our defenses, and flaws—a bicycle isn’t here to care about us, analyze our imperfections, find us a soul mate, or solve anything.
A bicycle is here to help us remember to soak up the sun, inhale the crisp air, and savor the only guaranteed day we have.
It’s here to remind us to keep pedaling, and to keep pushing until everything clicks. It’s here to support our journey and help us regain our balance, so we can fly again.