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.