Saturday, April 20, 2013

The little whip and me.

Melting snow and an end to the winter chill leads inevitably, in our household, to the great bike tune-up. I think we get to a point where we just can't bear to look at them sitting motionless any longer, so we polish and tweak and raise and lower and tighten and pump, maybe even trot out the trainer for a test-run. The office turns into a bit of a disaster zone as Clay plays mechanic and I offer very sweet and polite little suggestions (which are often deemed to be wrong, but I assure you, my heart is in the right place). Tubes and wrenches and grease all over, and then the sun peeks out and we're out the door on two wheels.

I have two bikes, lucky lady. Both Treks, both white. I like my stuff to look clean (and Italian) and I like it matchy-matchy, so white bikes it is. Neither are super fancy but both turn my pupils into tiny heart-shaped laser beams anytime I look their way. The first is my road bike, purchased in Chicago in 2009 with a backyard full of lakefront bike path and a heart nearly bursting with triathlon dreams (quick trivia: I have yet to participate in a triathlon). The second is my little whip, a scrappy single-speed purchased in 2010 during my first few weeks in NYC. Completely utilitarian - I honestly purchased this bike with the intention of riding it brunch in Greenpoint and the Ice House in Red Hook, something I wouldn't feel bad locking up.

The road bike is sleek and fast with decent components and a nice new saddle that I spent some money on; the little whip has an off-sounding click somewhere in the crank, dirty Oury grips and an awkward stem and handbar that I've flipped upside-down in an effort to look cool.

I love them both. BUT, I've always, always always preferred my road bike - it was my first baby, my favorite child. I trust it entirely; it makes me feel safe and supported and strong and capable and FAST. I clip in and am absorbed into the machine - it anticipates my every move and I know there's always something that can be adjusted when the road gets tough. I am a cyclist; I have kits and gloves and shoes and hats. I am CYCLING and I feel amazing. 

The little whip is a bit of a wild-card - standard pedals, no gears, nothing to add and nowhere to hide. I am powering the machine, but from the outside, wobbly. I am no cyclist; just myself, with the added element of instability and balanced atop skinny wheels. I don't like to stand, I don't care to push it super fast. I don't trust the machine and I don't trust myself. I am not cycling, just riding my bike - the same way I did when I was ten. And I feel whatever.

The road bike makes me a better rider; the little whip amplifies my misgivings. But there's a time and a place for both - whip when I need to get around and roadie when I want to fly.

The weather is still kind of on and off, so I haven't been riding much - pretty much just to teacher training and back. I ride back and forth to Prana twice a day on training days - Myrtle to Jay, Jay becomes Smith, left on Schermerhorn, right on Hoyt, right on Butler, back to Smith, right at Myrtle. And again and again and again, unless it's raining. It's maybe like a two-mile loop, nothing substantial. Just long enough to feel a bit of pavement pushing past, the wind in my face, maybe dodge a few doors. 

Since my road bike was missing some spacers and a front wheel (my 'mechanic' had 'borrowed' some items at some point over the winter on a foray into bike-building), I set out for the season on my little whip, who was surprised and exuberant to have been selected. He was so perfectly suited to the task! He was ready to help in any way he could. So we set out, me clumsy with loosey-goosey feet and my whip clicking away on the left crank, and we ride like that, back and forth and back and forth and back and forth. 

We melt away March and move into April together, me and the whip and the whip and me. My legs grow stronger, my grip more assured. We started to weave in traffic, confident, leaving the wobbles miles behind. I bring myself to stand tentatively, cautiously at first, then with conviction, tail high and letting my back arch as we sail down Myrtle promenade, balanced and somehow grounded through both feet. I am pushing steadily into the pedals, giving the clicky crank a run for its money, and it holds strong. I can feel, I am earning every inch of pavement beneath me.

I don't miss you, gears.

I don't miss you, clippy pedals (well, maybe a little).

I don't need a fancy machine to help me to fly.

Now, I am definitely not about to bring the little whip along with me if and when I get around to that triathlon, or even a road race. He's never going to work miracles for me in Prospect Park, he's not going to help me ride with a pack on the West Side highway. But I will never forget that one time, during a period of rapid personal growth, my jenky little single-speed bike couldn't help me but instead gave me the tools to help myself, to bring myself to stand on my own two feet. 

And at that time, in that moment, that was exactly what I needed.

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