There were some things I avoided learning as a child. I think my sense of self-preservation kicked in early, or something, because I carefully avoided anything I thought had the potential to break my face. For example, to this day, I cannot do a cartwheel. I am also really bad at climbing trees, which does not bode well for me if I am ever chased by a bear (Or a zombie horde. Can zombies climb trees? Because that would be terrible.)
But since moving to Japan I have discovered that the same sense of self-preservation that ensured my advancement to adulthood has also crippled me in one, specific, diabolically evil arena.
Screw bike riding. I would like to know who the JERKFACE was who looked at a couple of wheels and thought, “You know what would be cool? If I stuck a twisted metal frame above those wheels, threw a person on it, and shoved them onto a road. Oh, and also, they have to pedal until their heart explodes from exertion and the stress of almost being hit by thousands of cars. Wouldn’t that be cool?” (After some googling, it appears that there is some debate about who invented the bicycle, but apparently, one of the bicycle’s developers was a German named Karl Drais von Sauerbronn. A GERMAN. Now it all makes sense. Schadenfreude, and all that.)
I never even wanted to learn how to ride a bicycle. My parents made me. I still remember watching my dad take off the training wheels on my bike (which until this point was adorable and had FOUR wheels), and thinking, “This is the day I die.” And it only became worse when he insisted I climb onto it and start pedaling.
I think the day parents teach their children to ride a bicycle is the day they tell their children the biggest lie they will ever tell. Telling them that broccoli tastes good? Not so bad. The tooth fairy? Pretty forgivable. “I’ll be right behind you, and I won’t let go?” FALSE. My dad totally let go. And the moment I realized that, my early-onset self-preservation kicked in, and I flipped out. I was crying, and screaming, and our neighbors were coming out onto their porches and looking out their windows because they literally thought I was being brutally murdered on the sidewalk.
At one point, one of my parents, and I can’t remember if it was my mother or my father, said, “You’re embarrassing me.” And I thought, I HOPE I AM. YOU ARE TRYING TO KILL ME. (Sidenote: This scene was repeated when my father tried to teach me how to drive a car when I was twelve. I am pretty sure I was the only twelve year old to ever utter the words, “No, Dad, don’t make me drive!” To be fair, though, Dad tried to teach me how to drive on the edge of a cliff, so.)
I think the last time I rode a bike for any reason other than utter necessity was when I was fourteen. After that, my bike went into the garage, and I pretty much never used it ever after that. I went through high school and university happily bike free, and I thought I had, at last, escaped.
And then I moved to Japan. This, in and of itself, would not have been enough motivation to get me on a bike again. But I have friends here. Friends who, for whatever reason, cannot see the bicycle for what it truly is. They think it’s great, and they don’t understand why I have to be forcibly dragged out of my house when they decide we should all go for a ride. Well, aside from the aforementioned danger and terror, I have three reasons for this.
REASON ONE: Bicycles are self-esteem destroyers. Oh, you think you’re young and spry and hip? Get on a bicycle and that is no longer true. Suddenly all your years of exercising are completely worthless, because this machine of terror has turned you into a noodle-legged old woman. And your sweat probably smells like weakness.
My friends Stacy and Tori (incidentally, the same friends who repeatedly force me to ride my bike) have thighs of steel. I have thighs of slightly melty aluminum. This makes for a problem when we go riding together. For instance, Tori and I take a dance class together, and one time (just one time,) she decided we should take our bikes. I lost sight of Tori within about five minutes. This is significant because the road to our class is STRAIGHT. It’s not like she was around a corner, or cutting through an alley, or something. She was literally so far ahead of me I could not see her. (Actually, this one turned out okay, because once she was no longer around to watch me fail at riding a bike, I was free to dismount said bike and walk most of the way to class. Which I did.)
REASON TWO: You can’t do anything else while riding a bike but ride the bike. Oh, you want to talk with friends and sip cocoa and window shop? NOPE. You are on a bicycle.
It occurs to me every time I ride a bicycle that I must look like some subspecies of gorilla, because I am hunched over the handlebars, staring intently at the path in front of me, willing any slippery rocks or old ladies or cats to stay out of my way, completely white-knuckled. There is no window shopping or exploring to be had, because if I don’t want to DIE, I have to pay attention. I also cannot participate in conversation because a) I am really out of breath, and b) probably several blocks behind everyone else. Drinking or eating anything is right out. Essentially, everything enjoyable about going places is impossible to do while on a bicycle. Seriously, who invented this thing?!
REASON THREE: No protection from the elements. Oh, it’s raining/snowing/hailing? TOO BAD. You can’t hold an umbrella. This happened a matter of days ago, and it was terrible.
Long story short, we rode our bicycles to a department store (I was perpetually four blocks behind—melty aluminum thighs), went shopping, and exited the store to find that the sky had opened wide and was dumping snowflakes the size of ferrets onto the streets. We were forced to ride twenty minutes back to our apartments in the blizzard. Being completely blinded by snow, there were a few moments (mostly after I nearly ran down an old man, swerved, and nearly impaled myself on a fencepost) when I thought I was going to die. On a bicycle, which is not a heroic death at all.
So there it is. My lifelong struggle with the bicycle. Personally, I have had enough of this bicycle business. I think it’s high time modern science got with it and built me a hoverboard. I’m waiting, modern science. I’m waiting.