Saturday, May 17, 2014


Let me get this right out of the way:

I am afraid of bicycles.

It's true. I fear them with a mighty fear. Not the way I fear cars or guns or cancer, mind you. Those things can kill you and they evoke a very primal, panicked fear in me. The fear I have for bicycles is more subversive than that. It hides just below the surface. It's the kind of fear that's tied up in failure, in not measuring up, in not being enough.

Okay, so clearly I have some baggage around bicycles. You see, I used to date a guy who was a cyclist as well as a runner. He was good at biking and running... and pretty much everything else. Anything he put his mind to doing (and he put his mind to doing a lot of things) he did and did very well. (And he was only ever kind and humble about it, by the way.) Which was why I liked him. But it had implications for me.

I was constantly in awe of him. He was always doing something interesting or going somewhere interesting and after awhile it seemed to me to be in his blood, this constant need to be in motion, to do exciting things. Me, though, I liked to sit still. In fact, everything I do well (writing, reading, daydreaming, baking, drawing, claying) requires being still or staying in one spot for long periods of time. I started to define us by our opposite natures: him always in motion, me always still. And because of other baggage, events in my past that go further back, I came to think of his motion as ideal, and my stillness as a lack.

That relationship didn't last, but the thing that did last was this: the bicycle was a symbol of everything I could never be. Because when I was biking, it was always with this boy - who was faster, more confident, more skilled than I was. When I biked, there was always the pressure to keep up combined with the knowledge that I was slowing him down. So that's how I saw myself whenever I was on a bike: Less than. Not enough.

I was telling my bike-obsessed friend about this and he looked at me and said, "It sounds to me like you need to get back on that horse." And at first I was like: You do not understand! This is deep, scarring stuff! The bicycle is a symbol of my inadequacies... and on and on like that. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if maybe I was just making excuses. I mean, what if I could get back on that horse - er, bike? What was the worst that could happen? (My mother would say: You could be hit be a car and die! My mother is adorably neurotic like that.) So a few months ago I bought a bike. And then I did a brave thing: I started riding it.

Now when I bike, I go at my own pace. I decide which route I'm going to take. If I'm nervous about riding on the road, I don't; I walk my bike on the sidewalk instead. If I'm tired and need to slow down, I slow down. If I'm unsure about something - about gears or tires or whatever - I seek out answers. I'm redefining my relationship with the bicycle. And while I'm still afraid (the cars! the intersections!) it's not the same fear anymore.

Now when I bike, it's about reclaiming something that I let define me as less than. It's about being brave - but not too brave, because I need to leave some bravery for tomorrow.

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