When you grow up in the middle of corn and soybean fields in flat, rural Indiana, I find that one lacks certain skills others have acquired from more urban areas. One of those skills, without a doubt, is how to properly ride a bike.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know technically how to ride a bike. My dad and mom taught me that on the grass of our front yard (which is a bit of an understatement…it’s more like a front meadow that’s regularly mowed) when I was a kid. What I mean is, I don’t know how to properly ride a bike like most of mankind, that is, going fast on asphalt in a city while navigating around vehicles and people and obeying traffic laws.
The Mr. and I recently bought brand new shiny bicycles, and we’ve taken them out on a few excursions so far. My lack of skill and confidence, however, baffles the Mr. He knew before we made the purchase that my experience with bicycling was limited, but I don’t think he really grasped just how limited it is until I told him the following story:
When I was, oh, I don’t know, maybe 8-years-old, my mom packed up my bicycle in our station wagon and we drove a few miles to a nearby little town where we visited a friend of hers. This friend had a very short (as she lived very close to the road) but PAVED driveway. I had never, ever ridden my bicycle on pavement before and I had so much fun going around and round in circles on this tiny stretch of smooth-riding surface. We had nothing but grass and a gravel driveway at home, and the road was strictly off-limits. So this was bicycling heaven!
The Mr., having grown up in a town in Europe, practically came out of his mother’s womb riding a BMX. He literally spent his childhood on a bicycle, and continued to use one as his main mode of transportation as he studied in college.
The next time I think I rode a bicycle on a paved surface after that earth-shattering experience at 8 was when I asked for a mountain bike as a teenager. I had long since outgrown my sky blue children’s bicycle with clouds on the seat, and I thought a bike might be a fun way to get some exercise. A new park with cycle and walking paths had just been built a short 15-minute drive from my parents’ house, and I could hitch the bike to my car with a special apparatus. I took the bike a number of times over that summer to the park, but honestly it wasn’t that big of a space to cycle around so it became fairly boring fairly quickly. I went to college and considered taking the bike with me, but my college campus was so small there was no need for one there, and all of the amenities of the town (like the grocery store) meant taking busy, traffic-heavy roads (and why would one bother going on a bicycle, anyway, when a car hauls so much more back?) So the bike mostly sat in my dad’s barn for the next several years.
After college, I moved to Bloomington, Indiana, home of Indiana University. Bloomington is a proper “college town” where many people ride bicycles, at least in the summertime. I suppose if there was ever an opportunity for me to acquire city cycling skills, it would have been there and at that time. I lived fairly close to the center, and could have cycled around on weekends. But again, I had a car, and somehow I just didn’t relish the thought of trying to cycle with traffic on busy streets.
Once I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, my life as a non-cyclist became pretty much set in stone with the damp, drizzly weather and the chaotic medieval streets packed with cars on the other side of the road. I had absolutely zero desire to try and navigate the streets of that city by bicycle.
Which brings us to the present. One of the great things I’m discovering about continental Europe is that it is, in general, much more “bike friendly” than pretty much anywhere else I’ve lived. Many cities have designated bike paths throughout, and what I find really exciting (and the reason we bought our bicycles) is that there are long, long stretches of bicycle paths along Germany’s rivers and lakes. Here in Würzburg, there are bicycle paths along the Main River which one can take from village to village on tours. There are even extremely detailed bicycle tour guidebooks one can buy which can help you plan longer journeys, staying in towns and villages along the way.
But at the moment, I’m taking baby steps and doing baby-sized trips along the river. I’m slowly getting used to narrow pathways with crazy cyclists who want to go a million miles per hour and zip around you with other bikes approaching. I’m getting used to doing something as simple as glancing behind to see if there is anyone there without crashing. My bum is adjusting to sitting on a bicycle seat for long stretches. My legs (which are as thin and muscle-less as pixie sticks) are hopefully slowly turning from jelly into something a bit more substantial.
Someday, we’ll get there. We’ll do longer tours and take in the German countryside by bicycle. I may not ever have the confidence to ride a bike on a street around a busy city center, but I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished something – gained a new skill even – if I manage to tackle a week-long vacation with the power of my own two legs.