Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Pass To The Left

“Let’s go for a bike ride” Tyler said to me, grinning. “you’ve got a bike, right?”

No, I actually don’t have a bike at all; (yet another thing my 12-year-old self would slap me for) but I gave Dad one a few years back. I know where he lives; so I slid by his place one morning before he was up and I swiped it.

When Tyler arrived at my house with her nerdy blue Schwinn in tow – I initially felt a tiny shot of superior bikesmanship. My gleaming Novara Aspen (red) looked professional and neat. I may have even made a derogatory remark concerning “Wal-Mart” brands; but I was immediately put in my place with “Oh YEAH? Well you don’t even HAVE a bike. That bike is your DAD’S bike. You’re riding your DAD’S bike you big nerd. I have my own 18-speed MOUNTAIN BIKE!! All you have is your DAD’S BIKE!! HA!”

So much for brand names.

The big idea was to cruise down the Alpharetta Greenway bike trail (a paved two-lane “trail”) and enjoy a little metropolitan nature; not a bad idea I guess. I like nature. I like to be outdoors. But that was before I realized that my biking companion has absolutely no sense of proper bike-lane management, or any sort of serious views concerning the rules of the road. At one point she looked over at me, wrinkled up her nose, and loudly announced "My handlebars smell weird" - a clear violation of decent biking etiquette.

About 3 or 4 minutes down the trail, as Tyler gleefully whirled and wheeled lane-to-lane chasing butterflies, skipping cracks (you’ll apparently “break your mothers back”), shouting “HEEYYYY JIMMYYYY LOOK AT THAT THING” as loud as possible directly at terrified wildlife, clicking and clacking around with her gearshifters, weaving through groups of joggers, and generally making a biking hazard of herself; I realized: she is a 6-foot-blonde rolling missile, and I am a nervous wreck.

Every few minutes a grim-faced, humorless, “serious” biker would appear over my left shoulder, shout “LEFT!!!!” and thunder by in a loud WHOOSH, narrowly missing Tyler, The Helmetless Wonder, who was busy swerving in-and-out between the dotted marks of the centerline. At least half the time I don’t think she even realized she was being passed – or that she was in the wrong lane.

It was a scary experience; largely because I spent the majority of the time mentally preparing a cheerful voice to use when calling her parents from an emergency room pay phone; but also because: my biking skills have atrophied dramatically since 5th grade. I constantly felt like I was about to fall over and, for some reason, I have a greatly heightened sense of how much that is going to hurt.

When we were little you could bounce your face right off the sidewalk and, provided nobody was looking, climb right back on. If an adult was looking – and you cried enough, and the damage was bad enough, you might get ice cream out of a good crash-and-cry. At least, that was my general strategy.

Now that I write it all down on paper it looks like the strategy of a little fat kid; which may explain why Mom always dragged me straight to the “husky” section at Marshalls.

Biking, by today’s namby-pamby standards is a bit hazardous; but back then only the ultra-nerdy kids wore helmets. I homeschooled for crying out loud - and not even I had a helmet. If you wore a helmet, you may as well plan to sit in the street crying all afternoon because somebody bigger was definitely going to take your bike away and push it off into the creek.

NOBODY wore a helmet, but I don’t ever recall hearing about any major head injuries among our friends back then. I think kid’s skulls have gotten softer. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with America –all these soft skulled kids running around everywhere. At 4-years-old my cousin Beau landed updside-down with an entire motorized ATV on his forehead and didn’t even need stitches. If he didn’t need a helmet for that, you sure don’t need to spend the extra kwan on Styrofoam helmets for your nerdy little herd of sweaty human goats.

That’s another thing that bothers me – bike helmets are made of STYROFOAM. When was the last time you saw a NASCAR champ hop behind the wheel with his noggin wrapped in plain Styrofoam? Maybe it’s the best substance in the world for impact absorption at low speed; but you won’t catch me wearing it: way too flammable. It’s a legitimate concern, because if I fall off my bike at top speed you better believe something is definitely going to catch on fire.

And I lied: I DID have a helmet.

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