Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike. -John F. Kennedy
As is true for most people, my relationship with cycling began as a young child. I remember pedaling up and down the block in front of my house nearly every day in the summer. In the second grade, I received my First Holy Communion and my first real chuck of money from the party that followed. As soon as I finished my last bite of cake, I was clamoring for a ride to the nearest Target. I was so excited to buy my first 10-speed bike. The instant I got that pink and purple Huffy my world expanded.
Having a bicycle as a kid brought freedom. With only a couple bikes to our name, my sister and I could disappear for hours on a nice day. We could ride to the store, a friend’s house, a park, or just a nearby empty parking lot. For two girls without much money growing up on the south side of Milwaukee, the possibilities seemed endless.
As I got older, though, I lost the effortless enjoyment of bike riding. Cycling became a means of transportation, a necessity rather than a fun recreational activity. I biked a lot in college, but only when I had to. The UW-Madison campus is rather large, and I lived just on the edge of campus, far enough from my classes to make biking essential. I brought with me an old, rusted out blue 10-speed from home. The tape was barely hanging on to the handlebars, and it was very difficult to ride. Often times I had to walk it up the many hills on campus. Eventually, one of the wheels broke beyond repair while riding down University Avenue, so I parked it on a nearby bike rack and said my goodbyes. In my imagination, it still sits on that bike rack to this day.
The following year, I bought a new (but equally cheap and hard to ride) bike at Target – apparently my favorite specialty bike shop. Don’t criticize, I didn’t have much money at the time. At this point I had moved even farther off campus, and the bike was even more necessary. I distinctly remember riding this bike to class in the very beginning of the semester and getting hit by a car coming out of a parking lot. I wasn’t hurt, but my rim was forever bent. So from that point forward I had to ride with the brakes constantly rubbing the rim of the wheel. And I thought it was hard to ride before. My then boyfriend (and now husband) tried to bend it back, but it was never quite right. Needless to say, my experience with biking was not pleasant at this time in my life.
Although my Target bike was damaged and hard to ride, I held onto it for a number of years. Even when I finally bought a car (and moved across town from campus), I would still throw my bike into the back of that brown Mercury station wagon and park near enough to campus to bike the rest of the way. To avoid paying for parking of course.
After I graduated and got married, that same bike followed me to our first home. At that point, I attempted to go on a “just for fun” bike ride with my husband. Halfway through the ride and on a rather daunting hill, I collapsed on someone’s front lawn and said, “Never again!” I walked the rest of the way home and parked that bike in the garage until it was sold at a rummage sale three years later.
After that I really had no desire to ever ride a bike again.
Then I had children.
One of the great things about having children is the ability through watching them to remember what it was like to be a kid yourself. All of a sudden the simple pleasure of bicycling started to creep back. As I observed the joy on my girls’ faces as they received their first big bikes for their birthdays, the shell I had built around my heart regarding cycling started to crack. When I watched as each of them learned to ride on two wheels for the first time, it cracked a bit more. And when we took them on a family bike ride to the beach in Hilton Head, my interest in bicycling was more than a little piqued.
I wasn’t quite ready, though, to jump on the cycling bandwagon. One reason was that my butt was sore for more than a week from that tiny seat. Bike seats were definitely not built for a butt my size.
The following summer, however, I was fully invested. My oldest daughter needed a new bike, and while shopping for her, I started to think about how great it would be to go on family bike rides. I was searching for things to do as a family that were low cost, healthy and fun. Biking fit this to a tee. So not only did she get a new bike, but my second oldest got one as well, and then I did too.
I was finally able to purchase a first class bike, and the difference in my riding enjoyment was night and day. I felt like a kid again, light and free. The drudgery of my college years was gone. In that instant, my mind opened to all of the possibilities this new bike offered. I could add a new form of exercise to my arsenal. I could attempt a triathlon. I could spend quality time with my kids.
Now, I can’t imagine going a week in the spring, summer, or fall without riding my bike. Once the weather gets warmer, I itch to dust my bike off and take it for a spin. I crave the feeling of coasting down a hill with the breeze at my back. I love to take rides by myself and simply take in the beauty around me, listen to the birds, and smell the flowers in the wind.
But just as much, I love to ride with my daughters and share something healthy and empowering with them. I love to ride with my husband as we push each other to pedal faster. I love to ride as a family and teach my children to value their health and their environment, and of course a scoop of custard at the end.