And the L-train shutdown will easily double the riding in Manhattan.
Every time I pass my folding bike, Lucille and my road bike Lola in the hallway, my heart is tugged. I can’t bear to part with them, but at this point I’m terrified to ride. I've suffered 2 nasty tire-slips which came seemingly out of the blue, and my trust is broken.
If you believe Dorothy Parker's adage that that the quickest way to get over one man is to get under another, my attempts at shifting my focus should have worked by now. I’ve tried: walking with podcasts, Pilates, tap dancing, a rigorous daily workout routine (meh), jazzercise. I've reminded myself how lucky I am to be able to walk on two legs and hook up my bra. But nothing has replaced my yearning for the bike.
Nobody considers couples counseling until they have exhausted every other resource (I know this from personal experience). It’s a painful process fraught with disappointment, largely because two parties go into it allegedly to stay together but underneath, each secretly hopes the other one will change.
To be honest, I don’t have high expectations of Lola changing: she’s always been a narcissist. Her 16lb weight and compact crank leave other bikes in the dust; and the impatient sound of her chain coming up on other cyclists causes them instinctively to move over and make way; she doesn’t seem to care that even without a bell, she’s louder than an ambulance on the Greenway. So I’m almost not surprised that the one thing I ask her to do she refuses: put on nubbier tires. Her sleek frame will not accommodate them. The best I can do is these.
Good for gripping the road in the rain (not that I’m considering it). I opt for them anyway. I don’t know what else to do; The bulk of the work it seems, will be up to me.
As I look at my own responsibility, the one thing my two tire-slip falls had in common was - forgetting the curb, the sand or other convenient excuses - I was turning left and fell right. I even had a fellow rider in Central Park warn me about my lopsided riding...
But I never anticipated what a game changer it would be.
As I wait for Lola’s tires to be replaced, I ask my bike tech Marc if there is such a thing as a bike coach? Someone who could observe my riding and point out where I might be off? (Gawd, could I be any more like my mother? Truly, this feels like a new low). Marc is not put off by my question though. In fact, he says with a twinkle in his eye, there’s something better. He recommends these:
Most people says Marc, maintain their balance with forward momentum and never think about side balance. Most people don’t have to. I am not one of them. Bike rollers, he says, will change this. With bike rollers - round tires gliding over round rollers – side balance is everything. If you have any holes in your technique they will reveal it fast. Until you ride properly, you simply won’t stay up. And then he says something unexpected: once you learn how to ride rollers, you don’t actually need to keep using them. They will permanently change your riding. I am hopeful but dubious. Could bike rollers really be the answer to my problem?
My first Googling attempts yield a multitude of hairy wipeouts.
But then I look for instructional videos and see that it actually can be done. Hint: look straight ahead, keep a fast steady pace, set up in a narrow place where you can’t fall over.
I throw myself on the mercy of Amazon and wait with some trepidation for my tough-love therapist to arrive.
After a quick set up, I spend the 1st week riding in a too-wide hallway, hanging onto the nearby bannister for dear life, and trying to balance. I get nowhere. I spend the 2nd week like that. And the 3rd - but I can’t seem to get any further. If this is doable, I’d like to know how.
As I look back, I can see how deeply ingrained my habits were. Desperate to move forward, I call Marc. I’ve found a narrower bathroom doorway that would work, but I’m scared to try this alone. He volunteers to come over just in case.
We set up in the doorway, and I try to hold on with one hand as I did before, but there is no hand-hold in this space. There is nothing for it but to let go and ride. I brace myself – and tip over right away. Not far; the doorway keeps me from actually going anywhere. I try it again. And again. There isn’t much Marc can do. Holding the handlebars will only throw me off. He encourages me to engage my core and keep up my speed - and eventually to my astonishment I experience 10 seconds of perfect riding – really riding. Marc is cheering me on. “You got it!” he exclaims.
I feel like Eliza Dolittle. My cycling transformation has begun!
The closest thing I can compare it to is flying. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever attempted physically, but the best. And I realize one of the reasons I feel so free on a bike, is the sense of balance. This is why I’ve always found exercise bikes - and even trainers - so dull. Without the sense of freedom balance gives you, what’s the point?
It is also instantaneously clear to me why I fell: I had been riding with most of my weight on the handlebars, definitely weighted more to the left. You can’t do this on a bike roller and stay up. You have to relax your shoulders – both shoulders - keep your weight centered on the saddle and balance with your core. Marc says the optimum ratio is maybe 70:30 saddle to handlebar weight, and that seems about right to me. Looking back, it’s a wonder I didn’t fall sooner.
There are some other things about bike rollers that are different. For one, there’s no real resistance (though you can find some rollers that have it for a price), even if you change gears. And unlike trainers, they will not help you build power. But sweating is off the charts (I still haven’t figured out why). And breathing – one of the best things about a real bike - is great.
Most of my cycling friends have never heard of bike rollers. Used mostly by racers and track bikers, this technology long preceded trainers and exercise bikes. “Are you crazy?” asks one of the best cyclists I know. “Those things are terrifying!” This by someone who would probably master them in 2 minutes – ‘cause how else could she be such a fearsome rider?
But it doesn’t matter. I was the one who needed them. I am the one who uses them. And I am the one who loves them; they are healing my relationship with the bike, something I thought could never happen. There is no price on this.
To be honest, it will still take some time to get my confidence back - I’ve said this before and because of that, I’m not putting a time limit on it. For all I know, I may never take Lola out on the road again (though she is itching to go – she is a road bike after all). But I have taken my Brompton Lucille – the twitchier of my two bikes – out for a couple of rides. And my riding is indeed different. Steering from the handlebars is light and optional – most of my steering comes from my core now. At this point, I’m still very conscious of technique, and ride very deliberately. But I can tell my riding is different because I can now signal effortlessly with my either hand. This was impossible before; I could only signal with my right.
What a revelation! I’m thinking I can ride this way anytime I want – be safe and never leave the house! I picture a future of doing just that: me, Lola and bike rollers riding into the sunset when, with a sense of dismay, I realize I have been taken in by the oldest trick in the book: transference. I think I have fallen back in love with riding; I have actually just fallen in love with the therapist. It’s a great training exercise, but it remains to be seen whether Lola and I will be able to rebuild our relationship without the safety of our therapist (or that handy doorway): out on the road.
There are all kinds of couples and all kinds of relationships. What would work for some people seems totally out of place for others. Still, they say willingness is the most important thing.
You have to start somewhere.