After his car was stolen for the second (third?) time while living in West Oakland, my husband opted for a more economical and eco-friendly mode of transport (though no less prone to theft) — bicycling. He rode his bike all over Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco.
But, me? I rode a friend's bike in San Francisco once and vowed to never ride in city traffic again. As I mentioned previously, balance is not my forte. Add two wheels under me, and you are just asking for it. But, Adam loves to ride bikes, so when a oh-so trendy 1970s Schwinn was abandoned near the garbage cans of our old Oakland apartment I decided to take one for the team — at least the bike was cute.
$125 later, my free bike was rideable and we did take a couple of rides around the lake, but I would never call them joyful. Every pothole was a cavern waiting to swallow my front wheel and toss me over the handlebars, every car a speeding demon trying to knock me into the gutter, and I never once managed to get back up the hill without walking it. So when we moved to Alameda we were excited about two things: less traffic and flat, maintained roads.
We went on a few rides that first spring — I even managed to ride over the Bay Farm Bridge without having to get off and walk — but my free bike seemed to have a fatal flaw. Its tires could never seem to keep inflated and it was an inch or two too tall. Lack of balance, wheels and unneccessarily high distance between me and the ground was not a good mix.
When you are pregnant they tell you not to take on any new excercise plans or to do things that could lead to falling (horseback riding, roller skating, bike riding) unless you are really, really good at it, so the bike has remained locked up since 2010.
But, like I said, Adam loves riding his bike and when The Kid turned one he was deemed fit to don a helmet, so Adam's Father's Day request was to go for a family bike ride. I was not about to deny the father of my child, the man who changes diapers, mops the kitchen floor, and gets up at 2 a.m. (and 4, and 5), his one request — so off we went on Father's Day to .
Lo and behold, they were having a sale. It was packed. People and bikes were everywhere. It was helmets and wheels all over the place, and I was terrified I would knock one over and send a row of bikes crashing down like dominos, but then I got George's attention.
Let me say for the record, George is awesome. Actually, everyone at Alameda Bicycle is awesome. We'd been in a couple of times before to get my tire fixed or Adam's brakes tightened, and after dealing with fixie bike snobs, these folks are a relief. They love bike riding. They want you to love bike riding. Its a bike love fest.
I told George (that guy has an AMAZING bike) that we needed a bike seat and helmet for The Kid and a bike for me. He had us set up with The Kid's seat and (matching) helmet in no time flat. We figured The Kid would like the new front-mounted seat much better than the rear-mounted seat like my mom used to haul me around in, he is already quite the daredevil, and George was happy to know that it was going on Adam's bike and not mine, since I told him upfront that I pretty much suck at riding a bike. Poor bike riding with a baby onboard is not something Alameda Bicycle endorses.
Then it came time to pick my bike. I told George I was not a good bike rider, would not be commuting and didn't want to spend a ton of money, oh and it had to be cute, but not girly. No pink, purple or single speeds (I realized the hard way that single speeds require a lot more exertion and that 3 percent grades are a lot steeper than you think when they are five blocks long and you are in Texas in the summer).
He showed me a number of bikes in black, red and silver (not pink or purple) that he thought might work, but he was concerned about the size. Since I'm 5'9" with a short torso I probably needed a men's medium (men's frames are evidently a bit longer to make room for your knees), but he had me try out some women's sizes, because there was one problem — the black, reasonably priced bike that I liked did not have a men's medium in stock. They would have to order it, which meant that there would be no Father's Day bike ride.
I tried the other sizes and George was right, they were too short. Trying to compensate for my knees made me wobbly. So he said he would get The Kid's seat mounted for us and put the order in, but if we happened to find a bike at another shop that day to just give him a call and he would cancel it. Just don't, he said, ride that one...
When we arrived that day I saw the bike I had imagined: black, shiny, with a leather seat and fenders — adorable. But then I saw the price tag. It was more than I wanted to spend. I knew Adam had paid about that much for his bike, but I was not prepared to spend that much on mine. I'm not a good bike rider, after all. How much would I use it? Could I justify the cost if it was only for leisurely rides around town? Since when did bikes get so expensive? Adam assured me that a good bike always cost about that much when they didn't come from Costco and were actually made to be fixed and riden for decades.
That bike. "Don't ride it," George said. "If you ride it, you will hate me."
I had to ride it.
Not only was it adorable, it fit. Without having to worry about banging my knees on the handlebar, and yet riding more upright since it is a sort of cruiser hybrid (style and function!), I actually felt comfortable on a bike for the first time in my life. By the time I rode it smoothly down the street, made a U-turn without fearing the pavement and swooped up the Alameda Bicycle driveway I was sold, and both Adam and The Kid knew it. They were already outfited in their helmets (The Kid loves wearing his) and we were all grinning.
When George came out with The Kid's seat mounted on Adam's bike (which they did for free, thanks!) I had just one thing to say, "I totally hate you."
I bought the bike and it was worth absolutely every penny. Our rides haven't been long — my knees and butt are still learning to love bike riding as much as the rest of me — but they have been awesome. I'm not afraid of falling. The internal gears mean I can actually adjust them easily and I'm learning to use them correctly. Most importantly, I can enjoy our family bike rides, which are priceless, especially when The Kid puts his hands out to catch the wind and pretend he's flying.