Two years ago, I bought a used 21-speed Mongoose Pro mountain bike from my neighbor Michael. It belonged to his wife, an avid biker who succumbed to lung cancer a few months prior. Grief-stricken, Michael decided to move back to his home country, England, and got rid of everything he and his wife had accumulated
during their 20-year stay in America. He offered me first dibs on the bike because I was the right height.
I paid him $25 for it, which he said was worth a couple hundred bucks at least. He threw in a custom, padded seat, lock and tire pump too.
“It’s a really, really good bike. You’re getting a good deal.”
A cursory search on Craigslist shows a comparable, slightly newer bike selling for $350, but I didn’t need convincing. I needed a bike anyway, and I knew this was something a little more than your average girly pink bike with tassles and a basket. Although, I kinda hoped for one with tassles and a basket. (How else am I supposed to cart around the designer puppy that I plan on getting someday?)
But, the bike stood dormant in the same spot for years, in a corner of my apartment building’s foyer where it collected dust and cobwebs, moving just that one time when Michael insisted I get on it before committing to the purchase.
And it would probably languish there untouched for another few years if my boyfriend Mike didn’t come along. A recent transplant to California and budding triathlete, Mike thought it would be cool to cruise the nearby bike trail that winds its way down the beach, through picturesque Marina del Rey and the slightly skeezy Ballona Creek trail about a mile from home. (I say “slightly skeezy” because it’s just the kind of place where a dead body might turn up. These are the thoughts that go through my mind when I go for a run at 6 a.m., when only the in-training die-hards would be out on the trails. It’s why I try to always run with my mobile phone. I know, must stop watching CSI.)
Weekend bike rides with a cute boy? Stopping off at neighborhood cafes for an iced mocha or beer break? Pausing long enough to pet the neighborhood dogs out for a walk? Sign me the fuck up! Yay, I can finally use that really good bike that I got such an awesome deal on!
So, Mike, whose father taught him how to fix his own car, took upon himself the project of restoring my ride. After a few trips to Home Depot and some tinkering, he deemed my bike safe enough to take out again, even though the rusty tires were still in need of steel wool. (I still don’t know what that means exactly.)
But before we set out, he insisted I get a helmet, sweetly declaring that he doesn’t want anything bad happening to my head. Or its precious contents. We went to Big 5, which, weirdly enough, only had child helmets even though they sold adult-sized bikes. So off to Helen’s Cycles we went, where I purchased a $70 helmet.
Let’s just take a moment to digest the fact that my helmet cost almost three times what I paid for the bike itself.
“Your brain is worth more than 3x the price of your bike,” Mike said and then I chuckled an uneasy chuckle because (a) it’s true, and (b) more interestingly, I went with one of the cheaper models.
But for biking aficionados, $100 is almost nothing to spend on a helmet when bikes run in the thousands these days. Mike himself rides a $2500 bike, which he bought at the bargain price of $1200. He would often salivate at the $4000 models that would zoom past us during our walks by the beach.
“Babe, I can tell what a $50 bike looks like, but I can’t tell a $500 bike from a $5000 bike,” I’d say him whenever he stops to admire a “nice bike.”
Then the moment came for us to take our maiden voyage. I got on my newly restored bike and felt that it was a little bit too big for me, and stopping was proving to be a bit of a challenge. (Challenge as in, I couldn’t do it without scraping half my calf off with the pedals.)
Then, a childlike fear swept over me. I felt like I was eight years old again, trying to ride a bike for the first time and scared of falling. Only this time, I’m 40 years old with no training wheels to fall back on. And my guy was watching. I was utterly nervous.
“Um, babe, can we walk the bikes to the beach first?” (I practically live on a highway. The thought of sharing the road with cars scared the shit out of me.)
“Um, can I do some practice laps around a parking lot first before we get on the trail? I want to make sure I’m comfortable with the bike.”
A few minutes later, my fears subsided after a few fall-free laps around a nearby parking lot. Mike beamed.
“See? You’re doing great!”
“There’s a reason there’s that saying.”
“DON’T CHANGE GEARS UNLESS YOU ARE MOVING! YOU’LL RUIN YOUR DERAILLEURS.”
Huh, what? I have no idea what the fuck a derailleur is, but more importantly, the confidence that I had built up in the last five minutes vanished when I heard the word “ruin.”
“What would happen if I change gears while I’m not moving?”
“Your chain will fall off.”
Great. After a few more laps around the lot to make sure my chains stayed put, we hit the trail. After a wobbly start, Mike did his best to encourage me.
“Babe, you can do this. Just focus straight ahead, don’t look down.”
I was okay for a spell before the sight of a large, oncoming group of what appeared to be seasoned pros (I can tell their combined equipment were worth more than a three-bedroom house in Reno) reduced my nerve to zero and caused me to veer into Mike, nearly forcing him to crash into the group.
“Jesus! You’re gonna get me killed!”
I begged Mike to ride in front of me but he insisted on riding by my side for my own protection. “Please, just ride up ahead. I don’t want to get you hurt.”
His thinking was that the possibility of pushing him into oncoming traffic would scare me into biking straight. Look, you can’t dangle the idea that your well-being rests on my shoulders. You can’t put that kind of pressure on me. Scared that I was going to get this sweet, helpful guy injured, I lost my nerve and the tears welled up in my eyes. Mike, thankfully, had finally pushed on ahead of me and didn’t see my cry. I couldn’t even wipe the tears away; I held the handlebars in a death grip, too scared to lift a hand and dry my wet face.
Now, I’m sure the Marvin Braude Trail has seen its share of people filled with fear while learning to ride a bike. I’m sure it has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of scared humans wipe away tears as they learn to cruise down the path on two tiny wheels. But these were probably five-, six-, ten-year-old mini-humans, not grown ones. I was certain that I was the first 40-year-old in the bike path’s history to cry while riding a bike. The rub was that it wasn’t even my first time.
The thought of getting Mike hurt did scare me into biking straight though and I gained more confidence with each yard we pedaled. Set to one of the higher gears, my bike had a tendency to speed up with very little effort. I worried that I was going too fast but Mike insisted the speed was fine, if a bit slow. (Show-off.)
I had built up some mettle by the time we reached Mariner’s Village a few miles away. The colorful strip of boating offices, restaurants, snack shacks and faux lighthouse plays a big role on one of our favorite shows, “Arrested Development,” and I suggested we take a break to look around. Perhaps one of LA’s best-kept secrets, Mariner’s Village sports a quaint charm and lack of a crowd.
We even spotted a sea lion lazily sunning himself on a nearby dock. I decided, this was going to be our place. We agreed that we would take in a longer break, perhaps brunch, on our next outing.
Our. Next. Outing.
Well, will you look at that? I had gone from scared shitless to ready to take on round two. That whole “riding a bike” maxim really is true, though, as with most things in life, not that simple. The ride home was less shaky, if uneventful, and I felt a little silly for freaking out like a wimp. The tough, sporty Shicia was nowhere to be found, I didn’t even recognize myself, but I can work on that.
And only after I got off the bike to walk it home for the last half mile did I notice what a beautiful sunshine-filled, blue-skied California day it was.