Monday, February 21, 2011

NA na na na NA na na na... biking!

I like riding my bike.

Now, I realize that as a zinester, this makes me a total stereotype, along with the fact that I both own and use a typewriter, have a science-related tattoo, and enjoy old-lady crafts like knitting. I also don't feel it necessary to point out all the ways in which I defy the zinester stereotype, seeing as how such proclamations are themselves part of the zinester stereotype.

But still, I like riding my bike.

I bought my bike back in 2007 or so and basically never rode it. How could I? The street I lived on in Pittsburgh was on a 27-degree slant, and so were most of the streets in my old neighborhood of Beechview (home of the world's steepest street). I will fully admit here to being a fairly lazy person who likes my athletic activities to be fun first and challenging seventh or so. The few times I did ride my bike, I would walk it up to a local school and just tool around the parking lot for a half hour or so, enough time to get the crazy out of my system before walking it back down and forgetting about it for another month or two or five. At one point it stayed locked up in my backyard for over a year because I "lost the key" (when we moved, I found it on the mantle!). I just... didn't respect the thing. I never even gave it a name, which I think is one of those things zinesters are supposed to do, and then get your bike a personalized nameplate with the bike's name on it and maybe knit it a handlebar cozy, I don't even fucking know.

In Maryland, though, that all changed. Eastern Maryland isn't as flat as, say, Kansas, but it is basically as flat as, say, Portland (although I have never been to Portland or "PDX" as "the kids" call it, I've seen pictures). This makes for some excellent bike riding: just enough hills to make it interesting, without having to kill oneself cranking it up streets that aren't even suitable for car driving. (In retrospect, I think Beechview should have converted to using mule trains like that town at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Except then I would have had to get up at like four a.m. to get to work and that would not be happening.)

When I moved to Towson, I needed to find a physical activity to fill my days and quell my hyperactive thought processes. I started taking yoga classes at a place near my house, but after the all-you-can-stretch introductory month, I basically stopped going. I just can't take yoga seriously; some of the instructors were normal, but others were all "chakras and auras and third eyes, oh my!" I'm sorry, but if you say the word "chakra" in my vicinity, I'm going to laugh at you. That's just how it is. I also just couldn't relax, at least, the way I assume you're supposed to be relaxing when you're in yoga class. Everyone would be sitting around letting the calm blue ocean flow over them while they opened their hearts into delicate yonic flowers and I'd be singing the Batman theme in my head. I am just not cut out for yoga, full stop.

I tried running. This went better, since it's a solitary activity and you can listen to your own music while doing it, and nobody ever has to know how many times you looped the first MGMT album while doing your daily runs, to the point that even you are like "self, you have other things to listen to, you know" (it was at least fifty!). But it also seemed to lack something I require in a sport. Maybe it's all the laundry I was forced to do when I ran every day. Maybe it's also the fact that I was never actually going anywhere. I like everything I do to be practical in at least a theoretical sense. Running around the streets of Towson, I never felt like I was going anywhere except... building up the stamina to run an even larger circuit around Towson, oh joy. I guess being a fast runner would come in handy if one was being chased by lions, but I can't see much of an application outside of that. Well, I guess, also muggers. (Useful in Baltimore!)

But when I got my bike back from Pittsburgh in August (it had been carelessly left behind by a certain someone who didn't think I was ever going to use it), I fell in love with biking all over again, which was impossible because I never fell in love with it in the first place. Remember, western PA isn't a biking area. But eastern MD is, and until the weather got cold I was taking it out three, four times a week. It kicked ass. I loved it so much.

What is great about biking is:
a) It's a form of extremely strenuous activity that you can do sitting down.
b) Unlike running (sorry, runners) it makes you look cool when you're doing it.* Even grandpa-aged men in orange safety vests look cool when they're riding a bike.
c) Something about it allows my mind to calm the fuck down in ways that other activities just can't achieve. Seriously, I've only been on two rides so far this year, and after each one I was bursting with short story ideas and plans for my distro and a long list of stuff I want to declutter before potentially moving into Baltimore City this summer. I feel really energetic after riding my bike, but it's not the usual kind of unsettled, off-the wall sporadic energy, more just like a calm, focused energy like a confident 1980s businesswoman just back from her third merger of the day.

I have, however, been thinking about upgrading my bike. Here is my bike:

Pacific "Shorewood," the bike equivalent of Ramen Noodles.
Um, yeah. It cost $75 on Amazon. If you stick to parking lots it is a fine ride, but clearly it's not meant for actual road riding. It shakes all the time and feels like it's going to fall apart at any moment. If I were only going to ride it once a month or less, that wouldn't matter, but since I want to start riding my bike at least five times a week, I feel like I should get something a bit less... cheap.

But I am cheap! Window browsing at REI, I see that a basic road bike or cruiser might cost me as much as $400, which is enough to make me just want to get something from Target, even though I know that it won't be all that much better than what I have now, and they won't fit me or give me free tune-ups like REI or a locally owned shop will. I'm usually not one to pay for quality, as my wardrobe and the contents of my refrigerator will attest.

Maybe, though, it's worth it. If I spend five or so hours a week on my bike (which I can easily see doing) it will "pay for itself," by which I mean it will never pay for itself unless I got a job as a bike courier or bike tour leader or... yeah, that's it. But I'll feel a lot more comfortable, and in turn having a spiffy bike will make me want to ride it more, which will increase my bike skills, which will increase my comfort, so I'll ride it more... biking is clearly a gateway drug which will in turn lead to harder drugs like unicycling, bear baiting, and meth.

But until those dark nights of the soul arrive, I'm going to ride my bike.

*Exception: recumbent bicycles, the acne-studded squares of the biking world.


  1. but erica, you could also have an exciting career as a bike cop! though i guess they probably issue you bikes to use on duty. idefk.

    also HANDLEBAR COZY OMG. i am not a biker at all (to my zinester shame) but my brother is super hardcore into bikes and works at a bike shop, etc. i should totally make him a handlebar cozy at some point. (also if you want serious advice about road bikes, i can put you in touch with him, because he knows a lot about bikes and i am chronically unhelpful on the topic).

  2. Yes, please! I need some help, I'm a little in over my head with this stuff. I'm looking for a bike suitable for road riding, with medium-width tires, a couple gears (although I never actually use my speeds), and an upright posture. I wanted to pay around $300 but after browsing around it seems I might have to jack that up to a maximum of $400. I love the look of step-through frames but don't know if they're any "good." Oh and I'd also like it to either come with a rack or be suitable for putting a rack on at some point, so I can carry stuff around on it. Thanks!

  3. i'll let you know what he says. :)


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