Life on a Bike


I'm nine years old, and it is summer in Alabama. Every day I ride my bicycle or swim in the city pool -- or do both. My brother, our next door neighbor with the trampoline, and the cool blonde girl down the street meet in front of the elementary school with our two wheels and varying levels of protective gear. Then we ride for hours through the quiet streets of our little neighborhood. As long as we stay within the triangular bounds of my great-grandmother's house, the pool, and my granny's house, we can explore wherever we want. We respect the doctrine of stranger danger, but we aren't afraid of much -- least of all the town's cars, which give us a wide berth during the rare times we encounter them.

My bike and me in

My bike and me in

Fast forward to another summer, the one in which I am twenty-one years old and living in London for a work-study program. Over one weekend, I visit one of my good friends and classmates who is studying in a similar program in Berlin. He suggests that we ride bicycles through the city and brushes off my timid objections. I haven't ridden a bicycle in at least ten years, I say. But everyone knows that you never forget how to ride a bike, he points out. I acquiesce.

This bike ride through Berlin is one of the most terrifying and joyous times of my life. I am proof that you can forget how to ride a bicycle, ride a bicycle very badly through a busy city anyway, and live to tell about it. I am terrible at turning and make wide, wobbly arcs through the streets. I am woeful at braking and nearly crash into more than one moving car.

On this day, I make peace with death. I've had a good life, I think. I'm really happy. Heck, I'm in Europe. I'm really living the dream. I could die right now, impaled between a bicycle and a Fiat, with no regrets and a guiltless conscience. That would be downright poetic, really, and not a tragedy at all.

But I don't die -- partly due to luck and partly due to my bike wrangling skills increasing as my memory came back to me. But the primary reason I survive is because of the conscientiousness of the drivers who graciously looked out for and avoided the idiot cyclist who seemed determined to throw herself under their wheels.

Such is life on a bike. And such is life, in general.

A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.
— Mahatma Ghandi
photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc