“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.”
– Christopher Morley
“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.”
A few days ago, I bought a bicycle. It’s a beauty, an Electra Verse 21D in sky blue and canary. The second I spotted it as I walked between the two aisles of shiny hybrid bicycles in the REI store in the twin cities, I knew I was in love. I didn’t want to make any rash decisions for my first bike purchase in 17 years, though, so I tried not to yearn, and instead asked the friendly REI associate some practical and pointed questions about the style of bike I should buy. The more I explained my biking style and habits, the more he continued to gesture toward that exact blue-and-yellow piece of eye candy that I was indeed yearning for. My hopes went up. My heart rate quickened. I blurted out, “I’ll take it!” It had taken me approximately 5 minutes to pick out the bicycle of my dreams, another 15 minutes for the guys to install a kickstand and water bottle cage, 2 minutes to pay — and I was out in the parking lot, riding in circles.
Who cares about a little rain?
This got me thinking about the power of the bicycle. Susan B. Anthony said once, “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” (You can read an interesting article on the concept here.)
I, for one, am inclined to agree with her. Although I’m fortunate enough to grow up in a time when women can study and vote, I did find it pretty liberating riding around in the rain in the parking lot after the frozen shackles of a long, cold winter. That counts, right? And how many summer days growing up did my brothers and I spend riding our bikes to the local swimming pool, the baseball diamond, and the Mini Mart? How many times did my bike get me faithfully to class on time? How often have I cruised down a paved road in the badlands, thinking there can’t be a better way to enjoy the view? Liberating, indeed.
The bicycle is a wonderful piece of equipment, and it deserves some props, which is why I have decided to wake up from my no-blogging and no-traveling trance, and write this, my first blog post in months. I feel about as rusty as, well, an old bicycle. (Sorry.) I can’t think of a more deserving topic, however. In fact, the excitement of my purchase at REI got me thinking about the last time I experienced this kind of thrill, riding around in circles just for the heck of it, not caring a hoot about the dollars I just spent…
In the summer of 1997, I was 12 years old and had approximately 300 dollars in my little checking account. This money came from working on my Grandpa Tim’s farm in the summers — for every day we worked, we earned the dollar amount of our age. So the summer before, every time I spent a day out picking rock or hoeing trees or chasing cows, I made 11 dollars that day. (This was a sweet deal, because we were guaranteed a dollar raise once a year!) At the end of every summer, my dad deposited our earnings into our little checking accounts. Under his guidance, we doled out portions to savings and charity, and the rest was ours.
On this particularly beautiful evening in 1997, my dad drove me down to Dakota Cyclery on Main Street in Bismarck. I was bouncing with anticipation and clutching my navy blue plastic checkbook, with its barely-used blue-patterned checks. In the shop with my dad, I looked at bike after bike, trying out gears, admiring colors, and marveling over the fact that each one had handle brakes rather than pedal brakes — I had never owned a bike with handle brakes! Finally, I chose the one: A Specialized Hard Rock in forest green, with 21 speeds and a water-bottle cage. The green paint had tiny sparkles in it, and I was smitten. I proudly wrote out the check for $250 in my 7th-grade cursive, tearing it carefully on the perforated line and handing it over to the salesman. My first big purchase with my own money (Random tidbit: The second big purchase with my own money was a 12-gauge shotgun) — and what a purchase it was!
Even better, after a few test circles in the parking lot — sound familiar? — my dad let me ride it home from the bicycle shop. With the seat as low as it could go, I could just barely stretch my feet enough to pedal it. That first ride on my first grown-up bike, with the wind blowing back my hair as I cruised home, was a crowning moment in my adolescent life, and when I think of happiness and liberation, I think that moment sums it up pretty well.
Here’s the bike back in its glory days. I’m not sure I would go as far as to call those my glory days…
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not giving up that forest green Hard Rock just because I have a new bike love in my life. After helping to transport me through the rocky adolescent years, the Hard Rock came with me to college in 2003, where it took me to English class, Burger Time, and once, through the Taco Bell drive-thru at 2 a.m. My cross country teammates often borrowed it when they were too injured to run. In 2007, I took it to a bike repair shop in Fargo for its 10th birthday and bought it a tune-up, new brakes, and new tires. It was my transportation on one first date, one long healing post-breakup ride, and one particularly infamous trip to Dairy Queen which resulted in my brother Danny breaking his wrist. On several occasions, we have gone down to the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to admire those badlands together. Nope, that bike’s not going anywhere. We’ve been through a lot.
But, there’s no reason you can’t have a little bit of new with a little bit of old, so that’s how I found myself in REI looking at new bicycles for the first time in 17 years. I’m thinking I’m going to make a lot of new memories with this new bike, too. I may not be making any more 2 a.m. Taco Bell trips, but I hate to rule anything out…
So if you’re looking for me this summer, I’ll more than likely be on one of my two bicycles somewhere, enjoying my little bit of liberation.