The first day I was there, I rented a Nice Ride bike. Just like CitiBikes, only green, they are clunky as hell and only have three speeds. Made me miss and appreciate Lucille, although they are well balanced with normal sized tires. And although Nice Bikes are a little more work to ride, it's always good to ride different bikes. Like dancing with different partners, it makes for growth and mental flexibility. It's easy to get into ruts, which is not what I want so early in my biking career.
I started out with a map - which promptly flew out of my pocket as I was en route - and with a coupon for 24 hours of riding. I could have done that and more on the bike lanes alone. But on top of these, there is a network of "greenways" in Minneapolis equivalent to a freeway system in many small cities. I did two rides that day: one on city streets; then with the help of family directions, around a lake nearby where I saw people in paddle boats and canoes. And lots of bikes of course.
Minneapolites don't fool around when it comes to getting out there. The weather here is so brutal, the sporting season so short, that they are outdoors in shorts as soon as it hits 50. And the weather was perfect. After a winter that rivaled New York's (only 30 degrees colder), the trees were in full bloom, their flowers gradually shedding petals and fragrance through the fresh air as I rode.
Today was my third ride, and many family members joined in. I had thought I would end up with another Nice Bike, but instead because it's Minneapolis - and because of a nephew who has had a lifetime passion for bike racing, was involved in the Amateur Tour de France (there is no Tour de France for women, did you know that? There was one briefly, but it fell apart due to lack of financing), there were enough bikes for everyone who wanted to go. So I ended up with a racing bike.
With a boy's racing bike.
This was the first time I had faced this particular demon since my horrific bike experiences when I was 5. I said nothing, but I feared for my life even getting on this thing.
The thing about the bar on a boy's bike, is that it was only ever there so a gentleman could ride a lady in front of him. It had nothing to do with structure - girls' bikes don't have this bar - but it has stayed long after it's outlived its purpose, almost as an instrument of hazing for men. Because what could be more painful for a man than to fall on this thing? And now that it's there, it would take someone like Dick Fosbury, inventor of the Fosbury Flop, to change it. An Olympic high jumper who instantly saw that if high jumpers were landing on a mat, it made no difference if they jumped sideways, or went over backwards, he totally changed high jumping in the 1968 Olympics. Mens' bicycles could use someone with this vision. That bar is an anachronism and a menace!
Terrified, I insisted in bringing up the rear as I didn't want to be the cause of a pile-up. Nor did I want to be the target of shame in a family of jocks (this is my step family, FYI) - I wanted no pressure at all. I set the seat a bit low as a precaution, tried to remember some of the lessons I had learned riding Lucille, and off we went.
There was a little bit of wobbling, but I soon discovered the bike was actually light, well balanced, responsive and easy to ride (in spite of my fears). What I found was that any problems with navigation, stopping, starting or dismounting are problems that I innately have, are primarily due to old fears, my lack of experience, and are up to me to solve; they are not bike specific - and of course it helped that this bike was not too big for me. All bikes are built like racing bikes now, so it makes no difference if there is a bar or not (though better not of course).
What I really wish is that I could find a parking lot with a simple obstacle course to practice on, rather than learning in more real-life situations. But I have a bike trip booked in the Loire Valley in July, and my hunch is this is just the kind of bike I will be given. Better get used to it now.
We went right onto one of the green ways, my nephew leading on a tandem with his wife, pulling a trailer with their daughter behind them. They could have left all of us in the dust of course, but he was a generous guide. We rode along a well-paved path by railroad tracks, with room for pedestrians and twice the room for bikes we have in NYC. He took us along the Mississippi - I'd never seen the Mississippi! It was indeed muddy - where we saw locks, and powerful falls; rode by a defunct mill and then over the river and around the other side.
Bike ettiquiette in Minneapolis. No bells. They're WAAAAY too cool for bells here - or whistles for that matter. "On your left," is usually the call for someone to pass you. I've heard this in NY too - and to be honest, as I've mentioned, I'm not sure just how effective those bells are in NY - but none of these bikes even had a bell (though the Nice Bikes do).
I saw a couple of them, a couple of roller bladers (did you know roller blading originated here?), a couple of recumbents - and one guy riding something that looked like a moving eliptical cross trainer(!) - but mostly racing bikes.
One hill longer than Fiend's Hill (but not steeper) after which I adjusted my seat higher. There are also some things I need to keep in mind. I don't like to think I have an aging body (denial still my best tool for sanity), but I will say that years of repeated use have taken their toll. I need to stay aware of a shoulder impingement (don't ask). And falling for me could be catastrophic. But Helen Keller says:
"Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." I've played it safe for long enough - just what am I holding out for?
At the end of the ride - about 15 miles I'm told - I felt great. However I emerged with bicycle grease on my right trowser leg. It was made very clear to me that this is the mark of a beginner, and I was not unaware of the shaming attempt by my nephew.
Alas, it's wasted on someone my age. I do not aspire to be a professional bike racer, not even close. I do however, aspire to improve, to enjoy the good health and sense of empowerment cycling brings me - and to wear these pants again. For that reason, I'll be more careful of my cycling form in the future.