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The Joy of Biking

I’ve spent my summer rediscovering the joy of biking. I am a fair weather rider, and often forget from season to season how much fun biking is. This year with the cost of gasoline and the desire to shed a few extra winter pounds, I’ve turned to the bike for commuting and neighborhood errands almost every day.

Up until a few years ago, I had not been on a bicycle for 30 years. Then my husband got me the best Christmas present ever – a shiny white and silver “commuter bike.” My “Townie” has fat tires, a seat designed for the middle-aged anatomy, no toe clips and brakes that are easy to reach and upright handlebars that didn’t require me to ride hunched over like I was competing in the Tour de France.

I was a little nervous at first. But, after trying out my new wheels on the asphalt parking lot of the elementary school down the street, I quickly found that it was “like riding a bike” – you don’t forget. Soon I was rolling around the neighborhood, running errands and even venturing onto local bike paths and off to parks and stores outside the neighborhood.

The gear was great – a sturdy helmet, a comfortable t-shirt and padded, billowing, biking shorts. When I first suited up, my teen-age son complimented me as I set out for my ride: “That’s what I like about you mom. You’re not afraid to try anything no matter how stupid you look.” My fashion-conscious daughter added her own advice. “I don’t want to hear the words ‘spandex’ and ‘mom’ in the same sentence.”

I quickly discovered the biker’s rules of the road:

  • Always make eye contact with drivers who are pulling out from stop signs, especially if they’re on cell phones;
  • Keep an eye out ahead for drivers who may be ready to either pull out or open their car door just as you’re passing;
  • Read the weather forecast religiously; and, pay attention to which way the wind is blowing.  On one of my first trips down the bike path, I was amazed at how far and how fast I could go – until I turned back north and started riding into the brisk wind that had propelled me so swiftly and easily south.
  • If you’re going someplace to work, check to see if the facilities are bike friendly with racks, a place to change; and maybe even a shower.

Like any form of transportation, riding has its dangers. One of my sisters scraped the pavement with her face and broke a few teeth when a bike right in front of her on a tour lost a pack, and she went headfirst over the handlebars as her bike struck it. A good friend, like me a grandmother, broke her hip and fractured a few other bones while training for a triathlon. So, I ride slowly and stay vigilant.

On the positive side, I’ve also discovered the joys of seeing and smelling the world close-up. Milwaukee’s Lakefront is lovely from a car window; it’s astonishingly beautiful cruising along on a bike in places cars can’t go. The aroma of French fries and pie that wafts over the Capitol Drive bridge on the Oak Leaf trail in the evening speeds me on my way home to dinner. And you never get that mixed floral smell that is a Milwaukee summer when you’re driving along with the windows rolled up.

I’ve notched a number of small athletic accomplishments.

  • I have actually passed one person (on a bike, not on foot) this summer.
  • I rode in with a group I work with on Bike to Work Day. I was the last one to arrive, but I made it up the half-mile long incline at the end without getting off and walking.
  • I managed to successfully transport a bowl of fruit salad to a party on the bike. (Bowl and fruit in separate containers in the backpack).
  • I’ve ridden all the way to Irish Fest (and back) for the Sunday morning Mass and morning buns on my August birthday weekend every year for the past five years – not bad for a mother of four, grandmother of five. Every year I tell myself “I’m too old for this;” and every year I do it again.

When I was a teen (many years ago), the bike was my only form of summer transportation. My dad took the one and only family car to work every day, and my mom was too busy taking care of a large and growing family to drive us all over even if she’d had a car at home.

I remember fastening my clarinet case to my bike handle, meeting up with my friends and fellow musicians and heading off to band practice. It was five miles each way and we thought nothing of it.

Now, as I fasten my grocery bag to the bike handles and head out to buy a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter on a summer day, I feel that young again.

Kathy Quirk of Quirk Ink was born in Lima, Ohio (fictional hometown of Glee) where she learned to ride her first bike. She earned her degree in journalism from Ohio State University, worked for ten years as a newspaper reporter in Dayton, Ohio and moved to Milwaukee 30 years ago. She’s continued to write about everything from Tuvan throat singing to car seat safety for various clients ever since.

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