Wednesday Navelgazing

I think I want a bike.

I haven’t had one in years, because urban cycling terrifies me. I borrowed my friend Jan’s bike in Toronto once, rode it about two miles (way too hard, of course—ow), and swore off the idea of ever doing that again. I really admire people who use bikes as their primary, if not only, form of transportation, but I can’t help noticing that all of them who live in major cities seem to have at least one story about that time they rode into a car door/slid on gravel or oil/got a wheel caught in the streetcar tracks and went ass over teakettle in the middle of a busy street, resulting in multiple stitches and/or broken bones. Boy, where do I sign up?

But last weekend, Al and I rented one of these contraptions and rode awkwardly along the lakefront, which was really, really fun—and something I don’t ever need to do again. What I would do again is ride a normal bike along the lakefront, with or without Al.

And it occurred to me as I was walking the dogs this morning that I’ve got lakefront right at the end of the block, with a handy bike path and everything. I’ve also got plenty of non-scary side streets to explore in the neighborhood, and things like an organic grocery store and a train station and a library and my yoga teacher’s place that are each a 20-minute walk away but would only be a 5-minute bike ride on those non-scary side streets. Plus, Chicago is so gloriously flat, I could easily get by with a cheap one-speed.

So why the hell don’t I have a bike? Well, because I’m a creature of extremes. Because it never occurred to me before this week that, at 32 years old, I could own a one-speed with coaster brakes and use it to fart around the neighborhood, just as I joyfully did on my one-speed with coaster brakes as a kid. Almost every urban cyclist I know is a serious urban cyclist, an environmental and exercise crusader bent on achieving a world in which everyone breathes clean air and has fantastic calves. (Not to mention a fearless car—and car door—dodger.) These are people who cycle to work even if it’s 15 miles away, who cycle in winter, who see cycling as a lifestyle, rather than a mere hobby. I’m definitely never going to be one of those.

And the problem is, whenever I consider beginning a new endeavor, my first thought is, “Can I be the best at it?” If the answer is no, I usually don’t begin. I have gotten better about that in recent years—taking up yoga, becoming a no-name blogger, forcing myself to try online dating—but still, my default position is to avoid anything I know I’m unlikely to master.

I wonder how many of us are like this as adults. I have an ex who took up tap dancing on a whim in his mid-thirties and stuck with it despite having no discernible talent, precisely because he thinks “it’s important to have at least one thing you suck at but love doing anyway.” Most people I know aren’t like that, though. We wouldn’t dream of taking a dance class or piano lessons or joining a volleyball league with the full knowledge that we’d almost certainly never be any good. Instead, we tell ourselves the window has passed for getting good at those sorts of things—that if you didn’t start them as a kid, you can never get good at them—so there’s just no point.

But what if the point is, it’s fun to play piano/tap dance/ride a one-speed bike around the neighborhood?

I still have a lot of trouble thinking of potential new hobbies and activities that way. My brain insists that if I’m not any good at something, then it’s automatically humiliating—ergo no fun. Part of me knows this isn’t true—I wouldn’t be practicing yoga, which I’m not really any good at, every day if it were—but I still can’t quite shake that conditioning. When I was growing up, competition was everything, and if you couldn’t compete, you got out of the game.

Now, of course, competition is taboo, and kids are taught not to believe in the concept of winners and losers. I wonder if that’s any more useful in the long run, though. Kids still know damn well who’s best at sports, who’s smartest, who’s cutest. What nobody’s telling them—which might actually be helpful—is, It’s okay to suck. There are winners and losers, sure, but if you’re a loser who’s having fun, you’re all set.

If I ever have kids, I think I would very much like them to be world champion fun-having losers. (Fortunately, since I’m contributing 50% of the DNA, there’s a pretty strong chance that that’s exactly what they’ll be.)

And I want this one.

6 thoughts on “Wednesday Navelgazing

  1. I love that bike! I’ve been thinking about getting one lately…Miki is of the age to want to go on bike rides, and I am not of the mind to send her off on her own. Maybe we’ll talk bikes :-)

  2. Woo hoo!

    Be warned that if you get it from Target, you have to put it together yourself. I’m probably going to go to a bike shop, actually, and might very well just get anything used that fits my short legs. But I really, really WANT a pink cruiser!

  3. If you’re really loving the pink, maybe you should get the Hello Kitty one. Ugh.

    (not into pink accessories, though do wear pinkish blouses because the shade flatters my complexion)

  4. tigtog, I do draw the line at Hello Kitty!

    And my feelings about the color pink are complicated, as I have documented here and in the opening to this one. :)

  5. For goodness sake! Do not get a bike at Target or at any of the ‘mart stores or even sports stores like sportmart. Even if it is pink or another pretty color.

    You’ll get a much better bike, put together by a professional, much more fun to ride, easier to ride, longer lasting, etc, etc, by buying your bike at a bike shop. And Chicago has some really kickass awesome bike shops, like Rapid Transit on North and Damen or Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square. Or my own local bike shop- Dan’s on Roosevelt Road in Berwyn. They’ve got some really pretty cruisers at Dan’s for not too much more than you’d pay at the Target.

    Just to warn you, ten-twelve years ago, I was like you. I thought I’d buy myself a little bike to do some cruising around the neighborhood. Take some side streets. Maybe tool down the bike path. Now, I’m one of those serious lifestyle carfree environmental crusader urban cyclist types. I don’t have to bike 15 miles to work, but I bike through the whole winter. Dunno about the fantastic calves though. But, what happens is that as you start to ride, you love it so much and you have such fun, that you start thinking up reasons to cycle some place. You get reluctant to put the bike away in the winter. And one day you wake up to find you haven’t driven to work in months, its snowing out and you’re looking forward to an awesome ride. Or maybe you think fifteen miles isn’t really that far after all. ‘Cause cycling, even when you’re a serious urban cyclist, is about the best fun you can have.

  6. RoseCampion, I wasn’t really thinking of getting one at Target–I just think it’s cute. Thanks for the advice, though. Dan’s is a bit of a hike for me, but it sounds great.

    I’ll get back to you in a few years on whether I’ve become a Serious Urban Cyclist. :)

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