Updated: Feb 19, 2019
The summer my relationship ended, I started biking again. My middle school-era white Trek had a few broken gears and squeaky brakes, but it had been good to me for many years. So instead of driving to work, I rode my bike. I needed that ease and movement in the tense time of moving out of the apartment I shared with my boyfriend. When I biked, I could breathe. Then on my 39th birthday, the last day of my year-and-a-half relationship and the day before I moved out, my car was side-swiped and totaled. "Take the money and run," my insurance agent said. "You can totally get around without a car. There's uber, Lyft, and car2go," my friends said. And just like that, I became a single, car-free, bike commuter.
I worked it out. I rode my bike up hills to places I never thought I’d bike to. I biked to parks to hike on weekends and to open mics to meet friends at night. I biked with hardcover library books and groceries on my back, tucking bottles of Chardonnay in the side pockets of my backpack—also from middle school. But when I took my bike for a tune-up and to put on a fender, the mechanic said of my bike what my insurance agent had said of my car: the repairs would cost more than the value. So the next day I posted on my neighborhood's Buy Nothing page in search of a bike. Minutes later, a woman around the corner offered me her bike, with the caveat that she might want to use it at some point in the future. Her’s was another early 90s Trek like my middle school bike but the boy's version in blue, complete with a rack, back fender, and a what I would later discover was pedal-powered light. It seemed like the beginning of a good fit.
I was excited about the possibility of the Buy Nothing bike, but worried that the woman might want it back. So when my ex offered me a mountain bike that he'd stopped riding, it seemed like a good idea. I appreciated his kind offer and thought the ownership of that mountain bike—with all its bells and whistles—would bring me security. It could be mine forever if I wanted it. I picked it up and rode it into the same bike shop for a tune-up. Sure enough, his bike needed a lot of work, too. And as sleek, fancy, and high-tech as it was, even in the short ride to the bike shop it didn’t feel like me. The tires were full and wide, making the ride comfortable and supportive at first, but when I really settled on the seat, it just didn’t feel good. It was hard, and painful. So now I had three bikes: an adolescent model that wasn’t worth the cost to repair, my ex-boyfriend’s mountain bike that didn’t feel right and needed its own work, and the Buy Nothing bike that had a few cool features but an uncertain future. I stowed my middle school bike on the porch, returned my ex’s bike, and chose Buy Nothing.
I asked a new friend of a friend who knows bikes to come over and take a look at the Buy Nothing. “In exchange for beer and eats,” I’d texted. He quickly replied and days later there he was: a different man in my different apartment crouching on the floor removing my toe clips, lubing my chain, and pumping up my tires. It seemed—in a tiny, small, one-step-at-a-time way—that I was on my way to finding a fit. Then, to fit the bike, he asked me to sit on the seat, put my feet on the pedals, and pedal backwards so he could see my leg extension. He stood over the front wheel, facing me, holding the handle bars. “I’ll fall,” I said. He gripped the handles, smiled, and looked at my feet. I pedaled backwards, silently, as if through decades of ex-boyfriends I’d tried so desperately to make fit. I kept going, spinning the pedals as if each turn would either erase or make sense of the past. I didn’t know which would be better. “Keep going?” I asked. He nodded, looked into my eyes, and said, “I got you.”
In a romantic’s version, he would be “the one” and we’d ride off into the sunset on a tandem. But life isn’t always like that. It shouldn’t always be like that. And, actually, this man who gave nothing but kindness without sarcasm or anger was the one—for that moment. He was the one to help me, see me, and be a friend just as I was a friend to him as we walked back from the bar laughing in the streets on one of the last nights of summer.
I think of that evening often. How the balancing and pedaling backwards was unnerving, yet the most grounding experience I’d had in weeks. I think about what it meant for a mature man, strong in himself, to hold me steady while holding space to find the right fit. I think about how he asked me to sit, my feet firm on the pedals, while my body wavered. I think about how he asked me to pedal backwards and not forwards—just for a little bit. I think about how this process is actually part of finding a fit. And I’m not ashamed to say I’m still finding it.
In fact, I’m proud of the process. I think my effort and vulnerability is worth something—a lot actually. I’m on my bike every day. Sometimes my feet slip off the pedals for a moment and I feel fear. Sometimes the thoughts in my head about the wrong fits I tried so hard to make work are so overwhelming that all I can do is breathe and pedal. Breathe and pedal. Sometimes I bike down hills at night in the rain unsure if the dampness on my cheeks is tears or rain. And yet, even in those dark, gusty—and gutsy—rides I’m okay, because I’m trying. I’m out there, and I’m aware. I am safe, healthy, and moving. That is enough for now. I think both the effort and awareness will find the fit. I think it truly takes the work of placing your feet on the pedals and trying to balance while a friend supports you. I think you have to backpedal for a little while before you can go forward. And then one day the ease will come. One day you’ll be out there cresting a hill giving it all you can, then flying and smiling on the down slope
with the wind in your face. You won’t have to think about balance. You won’t even know you’re pedaling. It’ll be just like riding a bike.