Just to be clear, this isn’t some fancy multi-speed bike that requires special shoes, flashing LED lights and an expensive water bottle. Think Pee Wee Herman on his cruiser not Lance Armstrong speeding through France.
Curiosity about the bike I’d enjoyed riding led me to ask the folks at the rental shop
about it. The shop, with the cool name of Pedal Chic, focuses on bikes and equipment for just for women. The sales people and the owner were willing to give me lots of help, time and insight, even though I had made it clear I wasn’t in the market to buy, just learn.I’d bought the bike after spending two afternoons in Greenville riding the Swamp Rabbit Trail on a rented bike that was a perfect fit for my small frame. The trail is a converted rail bed that runs nine miles between downtown Greenville and Travelers Rest. It’s a peaceful ride with scenery as diverse as the back of industrial buildings to the rolling campus of Furman.
I was particularly drawn to the shiny yellow one that stood out among the more high-end racing and mountain bikes. The curves of the slanted center bar screamed girl power, and the seat held me like it was made for me. I test rode that one and several others but kept coming back to that yellow one. The practical side of me kept thinking this is like buying a pair of shoes – don’t buy the sassy cute wedges even if they don’t quite fit just because you like the color.
I learned from the shop’s owner that this yellow bike’s frame is slightly smaller than a typical woman’s bike. Perfect for someone whose driver’s license fibs that I’m five feet tall.
The petite size sealed the deal. I knew that bike was meant for me. Fortunately, the bike fit in my convertible with the top down, so I headed back to Columbia with a huge smile on my face and my new yellow bike wedged into the back seat.
After riding this bike almost daily for two months now, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn several
1 – Don’t’ avoid the hills. Yes, they require a climb. But life is a climb and, just as with any challenge, there are different ways to approach the climb using gears, pace and speed. I’ve decided there’s no disgrace in having to walk the bike up a particularly long or steep hill. I just start at the bottom with a slow steady pace, deep breaths and an eye on the next few feet in front of me.
2 – Slow down and enjoy the ride. Riding a bike allows a more intimate experience with what’s around me at that moment. I can smell the cut grass longer. I can differentiate the sounds of cicadas, crickets and birds. I stop and experience things I would never have slowed for from a car…ducks crossing a road toward a pond, an impromptu prayer vigil at the State House after the Charleston shootings, a concert under the gazebo in Travelers Rest. I didn’t just watch those happen, I experienced them. I didn’t fly by them in a car.
This yellow bike has showed me a whole new way to slow down and love the beach. When riding my bike, the salt air smells saltier and the crunch of shells under the tires feels crunchier than they do on foot. It’s not about speed when riding on the beach. It’s about negotiating around the various types of packed sand and the gullies from the tide or watching the egrets dip in the water for food.
3 – It’s OK to ask for help. The first time I tried to take the bike somewhere I wedged it in the back of my car. After arriving at the parking lot in Travelers Rest and struggling to get the bike out without getting grease all over the seats, I realized the chain had become dislodged. I had no idea how to re-string the chain onto that complicated looking gear thingie.
A guy unloading his bike asked if I needed help. I quickly told him I was fine. Ten minutes later, I realized I wasn’t fine and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I forced the bike back into the car and drove to the local bike shop where the mechanic quickly restrung the chain…and patiently showed me how to do it myself next time.
4 – Getting caught in the rain doesn’t have to ruin a ride. The rain started as a gentle drizzle after I’d been riding for about 15 minutes. By the time I arrived back in my driveway, the drizzle had become a downpour. I wasn’t cold and I wasn’t in danger of a lightening strike. I was soaked…but I knew I wouldn’t melt. The bike was wet but it would dry off. So I just enjoyed the sensation of rain blowing in my face, beating down on my helmet and rolling down my back.
5 – Do the hard part first. Ride into the wind and take the hard hills at the beginning. Just like a kid does his homework before watching tv, I found a ride to be much more enjoyable when I work hard and sweat a lot at the beginning. Then I get the downhills and wind at my back on the return trip.
6 – Discover new things in familiar places. I’ve been going to Hilton Head and Litchfield all my life and never noticed all the bike trails threading behind trees alongside main roads.
What a pleasant surprise to learn it’s possible to ride on a paved, safe trail the six miles from Litchfield to Murrells Inlet to enjoy a quiet lunch on the water. I had no idea Hilton Head is the only “gold award” bike friendly city in SC and one of the top
25 in the US. I was able to get to my shopping, dining and even yoga classes by bike on the island without getting in my car once over a weekend. Good exercise plus experiencing things I never noticed before.
On a recent trip to NYC, I rented a bike in Central Park and rode the six miles around the perimeter of the park. Admittedly Central Park isn’t a daily familiar place, but I’d been there on foot enough to know I’d only seen a small part of the park. Rolling hills, a public swimming pool, a zoo and numerous music venues surprised and delighted me on this hour-long ride around the park. I never would have thought to do that without the help of my yellow bike.
7 –Trust the rack. Once I realized I’d like to travel with my bike, I grudgingly decided to invest in a bike rack. I just never trusted those things.
Looking at a bike rack on a car speeding past me on the highway always gave me visions of the bike coming unhooked and sailing across the interstate to slam into another speeding car. To think about mounting a rack on my precious blue convertible and trusting those straps would hold completely
At the bike store, the sales person battened down the rack’s four straps and clips and positioned the rubber feet on the trunk. She showed me how to place the bike on the rack and strap it in with three…yes just three..buckles and a few bungee cords. I slowly drove the car home with the bike attached certain it would have flown off by the time I arrived in the driveway.
But before long, I was confidently lifting the bike on the rack by myself, strapping it in, bungee cording the wheels and setting off without so much as a second thought. Not only did I learn to trust the rack, but I also learned to trust my own ability to get the bike locked in safely.
Never would have imagined 30 pounds of yellow metal could teach me so much.