Saturday, January 23, 2010

Learning to Deal

I'm sure there are as many stories about the adventure of first learning to ride a bike as there are bikes and riders. Learning to ride a bicycle is and always will be a strange and scary thing. Learning to balance on only 2 wheels and ride among speeding cars isn't natural, but then again, now a days, what is?

I will never forget the time and place I first learned to ride and who was there. I don't remember what I was wearing, but I do remember the bike. I will never forget the feeling that I had successfully accomplished what I really wanted to do, the feeling freedom and no longer being a child. A right of passage.

I have a funny job. Selling Recumbents at Belmont Wheelworks sometimes has me playing the roll of Dad out at the playground. I have a simple 3 step learning process that for the most part gives customers the confidence that they will survive riding and owning a Recumbent. I feel that most of my customers have told themselves before they arrive at the store that they fit the job of a recumbent pilot, or else they wouldn't be there trying.

As with my first successful ride in back of Kinny Shoes on Worcester Road in Natick,Mass that Sunday afternoon back in the Summer of 1957, I will never forget the first time I tried to ride a Recumbent here in Dover in the Spring of 1989. I kept falling over. I caught myself each time, but could not deal with the new balance. I figured that all I needed to do was pedal the damn thing and steer straight and everything would be fine. Wrong!
Designer and builder, Bill Darby, had just dropped off my new bicycle and stood there watching and laughing. He assured me that I would figure it out and just take my time. He took off and I stood there looking at the strange beast, trusting Bill that in fact, someday I would tame this metal horse and someday we would ride together as one.
Launching off into traffic was something. It took me about a week to get up the nerve to ride it downtown and another week to ride it to work.
Bringing my new Recumbent through the door at International Bicycle Center in Allston, Mass, got me as about as much respect as if I had put wheels on my picnic table and pedaled it from Dover. I think for the most part, people were embarrassed for me, riding such a thing. Over time, friends tried my new ride, but it was clearly not for them.

There were two times that I will never forget about reaching the point of really feeling comfortable riding in the Recumbent position. The first was a time while I was riding back from Dover Center. I had this feeling of total bliss and wasn't really sure exactly what it was besides that I had figured out how to not die while riding a bicycle again. It took me about a week to realize it was that for the first time, I could ride and see the tops of the trees and the sky. I was noticing street signs and detail in buildings that I had never seen before on roads I had ridden on thousands of times.
The second time was the first time I took my bike into the woods. The look from the hikers was one of real shock. I was smiling all the way because of the view and told one fellow that I figured out how I could put my arm chair on my bicycle. He as not amused.
As time went on, I moved on to faster and lighter Recumbents. With each design there is a learning curve and practice to get good. This for the most part makes riding fun for me. The more you do it, the better you get.
My first Under Seat Steering Recumbent,(aka: USS) was the hardest to get comfortable. Simply put, not having handle bars in front of you was really strange. I found climbing big hills not bad, but trusting the bike while descending at
30+ mph, scary as you know what. I would get to the top of a hill and stop. I would then look down the hill and then let go of the brakes, really not knowing exactly what was going to happen. I never crashed, but did call the manufacture and ask, "People really ride these things?" He assured me that if I kept riding, that someday I would be comfortable.
After that there were two things that made me feel right on the bike. The first was a day when I left my SPD shoes at work and only had my racing shoes at home. Having the slippery shoe under foot made it super hard for me to feel comfortable at starts. When I went back to the proper shoe for the bike, I had a new feeling of confidence that I had never felt before.
The second was a ride back from Worcester,Mass on a sunny summer day. The tree cover and the sun shining through the leaves hid a frost heave. At speed I hit the bump and launched the bike into the air, both wheels off the ground at least 8". It felt like a foot. In the air, I remember feeling like I was done. I imagined myself crashing big time. Both wheels landed at the exact same time softly, smoothly and in a straight line. I started laughing and could not stop. I thought for sure I was going to have to be taken to the hospital.

Practice makes Perfect and with a little time and patents, I learned. I think the thing that kept me going was the total "Heads Up" style of riding a bicycle and the spectacular view recumbents give while riding in this wonderful part of the world.

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