Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Bike and a Smile

I've been getting a lot of smiles on my bike ride to work lately. It's been odd, people see me coming and they smile at me. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. Why all the smiles? It turns out, they were smiling at me because I was smiling as I rode

You see, riding my Italian city bike makes me happy. It's not as cool-looking as this bike I found in Pavia early on in my time in Italy, with its stylish zebra basket liner, but my bike still makes me happy. With it's basket, fenders, chain cover, dropped bar and completely uncool kickstand it is a comfortable, functional bike. It is me.

I've had a lot of experience with bikes that were not me. You see, a long, long time ago I hated riding a bicycle. I taught myself to ride a bike at 8 years old. I never got that comfortable, like the other kids who had been riding since they were 5 and were jumping off curbs around the neighborhood. As a teen, I went to summer camp where one of the activities was cycling. They put everyone on 10-speeds, assuming we could ride them. I was nervous and scared on the 10-speed, all leaned over on a twitchy bike. I felt like I was going to crash, and eventually I did. So much for biking! 

And then... about a year after getting married, I mentioned I might like to try out mountain biking. The bikes looked more comfortable and it was the latest craze. My husband, an avid cyclist prior to our marriage, turned so fast into the parking lot of the bike shop it was almost illegal. Newly armed with biking gear I started to ride the trails with my husband and other friends from work. It was all guys, and I tried to become the cool biker chick. I tried to like mountain biking, I really did. But after a couple of years I decided that I just didn't get why people would want to ride on these skinny dirt trails that you can easily ride off of. I didn't get why people would want to ride on paths with obstacles like roots or rocks in the way intentionally. I made myself ride with the "must-have" clipless pedals for a year, to see if I would eventually like them. I hated them as much the day I took them off as the day I started with them. I forced myself to do all manner of things that didn't seem to fit for me, in order to "become" a mountain biker. I tried to fit in with the mountain biking crowd, my husband and the guys I worked with. For years, I tried. It never worked.

What I did discover though, is that I liked biking to work. I liked the routine of getting out there, twice a day. Clearing my mind by working my body. Both getting somewhere and getting some exercise. Riding an exercise bike, nowhere? Ugh. Riding a bicycle to get somewhere? Perfect! 

One of the things I loved in Italy and Europe is that bicycling is not only a "sport" but a way to get around. A bicycle is an acceptable form of transportation. You don't need snazzy gear and spandex to ride a bike. It opened my eyes to these bikes that were both comfortable and functional, with maybe a bit of style too.  I loved the look of the city bikes that were everywhere. I captured them with my camera but I think it was my heart speaking through the lens, reminding me this type of bicycling was for me. 

So, last summer I went out and found a city bike. It's an amazingly huge and heavy bike, no worries about the lightness of frame here. I sit upright on a comfy seat. The bike has fenders, a chain cover, front and back racks, lights that run on a wheel generator, a kick-stand, wheel lock and a bell. It has the requisite drop bar in the front for riding in a skirt (although I've only done it that one time). I added a basket to the front rack, for even more functionality. I think I'm going to add some flowers to the front of the basket, that would make me even happier.

I look strange riding here in the US, among the mountain bikes on the bike path. There are more and more "city bikes" around but they still aren't that common. My bike is giant and odd-looking. But I'm no longer trying to fit in, I'm just trying to fit me. Seeing as I'm smiling as I ride without even know it, I think I finally got it right. 


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  1. Kat,
    Beautiful story about finding our true selves - and abandoning the desire to "fit in". Keep smiling - and a thank you for bringing a smile to my day.

  2. Kat, it's a lovely story you have here - I love bicycle for the pleasure to ride and enjoy the country around.
    But I am definitely not an extreme rider, never liked mountains rides as well. Too complicated and all the beauty of cycling disappear as you have your eyes staring at the next corner or the rock on the road.
    Keep smiling on your bike! I am sure that I would cross your way you'll make my day!
    Take care

  3. Last summer I bought myself an Electra towne bike and I love it. It's super comfy and I could sit on it for hours. I never liked mountain bikes either and I can't even tell you how many seats I went through in the search for a comfortable one.

  4. I smiled at everyone in the supermarket the other day and they all smiled back. It was a pleasant experience!

    I have an image of you now freewheeling downhill with your legs sticking out!

  5. Yay, commuter biking! Cycling through our city streets has become a big fad with the young, hip crowd here. They are fun to watch, but very erratic in their movements. Most of them ride big tire bikes and seldom wear helmets, often talking on their cells while they ride. Yikes! I hope you are wearing a helmet -- it's saved my husband's life at least twice!

  6. What a delightful post! I am picturing you smiling on your way to and from work on your big girl bike. ;)

  7. Oh, Kat! I can soooo relate to this! When our only daughter married, we needed something to fill our empty nest so we took up cycling. First it was hybrids, fairly comfortable. After doing a fair bit of road riding, we moved to comfort road bikes. Always a reluctant road rider, I nevertheless stuck with it because my husband loved it so much. Until ... a dog chased me and ran in front of me. I'll spare you the details, suffice it to say that my comfort level dropped significantly. Now I only ride on rails-to-trails and secluded coastal area roads. Stay in your comfort zone and smile, smile, smile! :D

  8. Great post Kat... Your bike sounds like it would be fun to ride around town. I would rather seen your kind of bike instead of the speed racers.

  9. i'm loving this bike story. I really regretted not bringing back my bike from Amsterdam. I'm so glad you brought yours from Italy!

  10. Great post Kat. But are you seriously suggesting that you are comfortable and functional too :-)

  11. what a wonderful post and great story. Unfortunately I don't ride my bike as much as I'd like to.You inspired me to get out and do something about it.

  12. love this post ~ I can visualize you keeping up with the guys! you are a trooper! Glad to hear you've dusted off your bike & are proudly riding it - smiling & a staying healthy.
    Your blog post inspired me to dig into my photo files for a couple of my favorite bike pictures... perhaps you'll consider dropping by my blog?!

  13. Your post makes me want to ride my bike. I'm imagining you pedaling to work. My bike has been hanging unused in the garage for a couple seasons now. I think I rode it once or twice last year.
    City bikes. I think that's what my friend bought-no speed, bigger seat. That's what she wanted too-and a basket on the front. I'll tell her about the flowers.
    Last summer I did put my bike on the bike rack of the car, drove to a pretty locale and then rode my bike around shooting pics in places it would have been difficult to walk to and impossible to find parking. Will your basket fit your camera too?
    Hope all is well-pedal on!!


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