You’ve probably heard the expression “It’s just like riding a bike.” It means that something is easy – if you’ve done it before, you’ll remember how and be able to do it again. I’ve used the expression myself many times in the past.
Here in Beijing, the locals all use bikes to get around. So I bought one, too. I haven’t ridden one since I was eight, but hey, it’s just like riding a bike, right? I’m sure I’ll remember how. I equipped my shiny new red bike with a basket, a baby seat and a bike lock – important accessories all. And off I went to explore.
It felt a bit awkward at first, but I am getting the hang of it. I can speed by the locals, most of whom meander along at a pace that indicates they either have nowhere to go or no shower available when they get there, and thus don’t want to break a sweat. I can brake at the last second when approaching a speed bump, without fear of skidding down the road on my side. I’ve managed when necessary to answer my cell phone while pedaling. I’ve even mastered the all-important hop-off-the-bike-while-it’s-still-moving maneuver, the one that saves me literally tens of seconds when I’m approaching my destination. Believe me, I am a busy woman, with loads of important places to go, and no time to walk my bike to the front door.
The only move I can’t seem to master is the one where you approach a speed bump (which are everywhere in our neighborhood), and instead of bouncing over it, you veer around the very edge, where there is a gap between bump and sidewalk. I console myself with the idea that my constant slowing and starting to get over the bumps is doing wonders for my thigh muscles, but really, I’m embarrassed by my fear of that tiny gap. It seems so small and my wheel seems so wide. I see mopeds, weighed down by two or three people and few grocery bags, and they can get through. Motorcycles turn in at the last second and they don’t topple. But unless the gap is particularly wide, I never even try. Or I’ll try: I’ll steel myself and aim directly for the gap, nice and slow, but at the last moment I’ll actually veer away, back to the safety of the wide, butt-bruising bump.
Other than my irrational fear of the gap, I’m actually getting quite cocky. It is just like riding a bike. I can do it. I remember this skill, attained and then abandoned all those years ago.
Last weekend, I was riding around the neighborhood, delivering Aidan’s birthday party invites to a few of the neighbors. I did my rolling-jump-off stop at one house, tossed an invite in the mailbox, and hopped back in the saddle, all in one graceful move. I headed for the next stop, just on the other side of the playground, feeling quite accomplished and athletic, and that’s when it happened.
I had to make a 90 degree turn onto the small path into the playground. The path was bumpy, but with nary a speed bump in sight. “I can do this,” I thought to myself, and prepared to make the turn without slowing. The bike wobbled, I chickened out, and I made just a 45 degree turn instead of the required 90 degrees. The tree directly in front of me was bigger than a speed bump. Much bigger, I thought, mere moments before I rammed right into it.
Not a problem, though. I didn’t fall – just got a faceful of branches. But here’s the really pathetic part. I actually tried, for the sake of the guards and the cameras that are on every corner here, to Pretend It Didn’t Happen. That’s right, I ran off of a road and into a tree, but instead of stopping, cursing, and checking for injuries, I tried to pretend like it was just another rolling hop off your bike stop. You know, like I just wanted to check out the local foliage.
So now I know that when the guards go out together drinking, they all choke with laughter when one of them begs, for the fourteenth time, “no, no, now tell the story about that crazy American lady who tried to pretend she could ride a bike and ran into that cypress.”