The Raleigh is still in my garage, and I have taken it out a few times this year so far. I don’t know how many miles I put on it, but I first started riding it in 2005, during my first summer at graduate school in the Hudson River Valley of New York state. That summer, among the hot, and the sweat, and the humid, coupled with the stress (oh, the stress, from many fronts) my bike was freedom. I didn’t have a car, but I could hop on the bike, hit the country roads, and pick up fruit from a farm stand, cruise past miles of cornfields, and just be away from it all.
I hated that school. I did two years there, and $40,000 in student loans (it was a private institution) and didn’t graduate, thanks to a “mutual” (all them) agreement that it wasn’t a good fit. But I loved riding my bike. That summer, I dropped 20 pounds over the 8 weeks, from stress, yes, but also from walking and riding everywhere. In my saddle, I felt strong, fast, and free.
After grad school, I did a few rides around the neighborhood with my (at the time) husband, but he always wanted to go farther, faster, and more aggressively than I was comfortable with going on that bike. It may have also been a sign of what was to come: that he wanted to do things his way, and my way wasn’t an acceptable option. We divorced two years later. From the time of our divorce until 2011, the bike was in storage, then chained up outside my apartment, lonely and unappreciated. During that time, I was dating someone else who also was incredibly self centered. He had a mountain bike, but never got around to riding it, and wouldn’t go riding with me, just talked about how he used to ride all the time. All talk, no action, which was pretty much our entire relationship. When I finally realized the gravity behind statements like “I love you and want to be with you, just not right now” I realized it was time to take off. You can only be supportive for so long before the weight of the other starts to crush you.
So, days after a teary breakup dinner at some random indian restaurant (I don’t even remember where), I put the Raleigh into the trunk of my car, and dropped it off for new wheels, a tune up, and some minor repairs. A few days later, I headed out for my first spin, all by myself. That ride lasted all of 3 miles, because my pedal proceeded to fall off. Um….oops. I didn’t have a multi-tool, or any idea of what to do about the pedal. So, I bitched about it on facebook, got a set of toeclips from a friend of a friend, and went back to the bike shop. After those clips were installed, I brought my bike down to my best friend’s neighborhood, and we went for a ride to pick up some other friends, (one who I had just started dating, casually…) and on that ride…the left brake lever fell off at a major cross street when we were stopped. Um… oops again. We met up with the guys, screwed my brake handle back on, and headed out for our brunch location.
That ride was followed by a few more in the 15-20 range, and my best friend (who blogs over at Wife, Mother, Awesome Girl) and I decided to tackle the Buffalo Bicycle Classic – not just *any* old ride, though. We did the 1/2 century. Mind you – we both were new to cycling that summer. She’d been riding a hybrid around with her kids, and I had been tooling around on the Raleigh. She had the foresight to rent a road bike for the event, but I pushed myself through with the gears that didn’t work, the giant plushy seat, and the brake lever that was loose. It was a blast.
Between last summer and this spring, I probably put about 300 miles on the Raleigh. Then, at the end of April, when I was avoiding writing my final paper for the semester, I told the boyfriend we should go bike browsing. “We’ll just look,” I said. “Just to get an idea.”
And that’s how I ended up with a 2012 Cannondale Synapse 5 Carbon 105.
I’ve also got 2 pairs of bike shorts, 2 pairs of gloves, 3 jerseys (and waiting for a 3rd to go on sale so I can buy it.) I have several pairs of socks, arm warmers, arm coolers, a helmet, and an amazing pair of road shoes. I’ve tried three different kinds of clipless pedals, settling on the Look Kéo 2 Max in white, and as of this weekend, I’ve put 157 miles and over 2000 feet of elevation gain on the bike since picking it up May 3rd.
“What are you going to do with the Raleigh?” my friend asked after I bought the new bike. I told her that I’d keep it around for when I don’t want to suit up in gear, and do a serious ride. For when friends come over. When I just need a cup of coffee from the Starbucks, since only three gears ever seemed to work. “Those gears always sucked. I loved that bike, and hated it, at the same time” she said. “Though, I drove that bike all over town to visit boys before I had a car!”
So it was freedom to her as well.
The idea of the bike as freedom is not new, and there are plenty of articles written about the bike as a mode of social and political advancement for women (such as this article). But for each person who gets on a bike, there are multiple reasons for doing so each time. A bike is cheaper than a car, and better for commuting. A bike gets you places as a teen so you don’t have to ask your parents for a ride. A bike allows you to push yourself, and find out what you can do that you never thought you’d be able to do.
As I was riding in the Elephant Rock cycling event this weekend, I was thrilled and amazed that I was, of my own power, going up to 38 miles per hour. Not because of a motor. At some points, I had a little help from gravity, but it was all because of my willingness to go, my ability to pedal myself over the hills, my ability to keep myself in motion, and to get down in the drops, pull my knees in along the top tube, and fly.
That right there is freedom.