Flash is a cycle-aholic. If I'd been born with wheels on my feet, he would’ve proposed on our first date. His first love was a bicycle he bought over 25 years prior to meeting me. Lightweight, with more gears than I knew existed, it was kept in tip-top shape.
As newlyweds, we lived in a two-bedroom apartment. The bike lived on the balcony. Unless, of course, it rained. Then I had to relinquish my side of the bed to Schwinn. After a few occasions when the handlebars hit Flash in the nose when he rolled over, the steel intruder was demoted to the floor. On my next birthday, Flash bought me my own bike. He was so proud of his purchase, and envisioned us riding off together into the sunset. Instead, my gift spent a lot of time on the balcony, while Schwinn was out running around. Not only do I have an aversion to exercise disguised as fun, I was afraid to ride. My toes barely touched the ground, and I coveted training wheels every time small children rolled past me. Show-offs. Two years later, we bought a house with a fourth bedroom for Schwinn and my neglected bike.
When Cowboy was born, we soon realized his need for constant movement; his DNA is shaped like circles, with spokes, like his father’s. At seven, Cowboy’s knees were hitting his handlebars when he pedaled his tricycle, so we bought him a two-wheeled bike with training wheels. The coordination didn’t come easy for him, but he persevered. And he was much braver than I’d been at his age.
When I was in elementary school, I was afraid somebody might see me fall when I was learning to ride. I insisted on practicing only at night. As soon as the sun went down, I was in the street with Mom pushing me from behind to get me started. Sometimes my lessons were in the easement behind my friend Lylas’ house; falling on dirt was softer than falling on the sidewalk. With my groovy flowered basket on the handlebars, I was soon ready to ride across America. Or at least to the 5 and 10 store that was 8 minutes away from home. Eventually, I graduated to a copper brown 10-speed bike with hand brakes. I was cool. Except when I had to stop. Forgetting I had hand brakes, I’d push the pedals backwards to try to stop, out of habit. When that didn’t work, I panicked and rode up into neighbors’ lawns so the grass would slow me down. The gears were a challenge, too. I went from 1 to 10 when I hit a long stretch of road, but, invariably, I’d hit 10 about the time I got to a hill. Leaning forward until my eyes were even with the low handlebars, I pedaled with all…my…might to get up the hill before coasting back down, backwards. Not exactly Tour de France material.
But once Cowboy was riding his two-wheeler, I had to save my reputation as a mother. I dusted off my old birthday bike, and we took rides to a nearby school and to a local store to buy snacks. He was beaming as he put his loot in his basket – a manly basket – for the ride home. But I was a nervous wreck every time I rode. Since I hadn’t grown taller after getting married, the bike still didn’t fit me. And apparently, they don’t make training wheels for grown-up bikes. So, I gave up riding, and Flash gave my bike to someone taller.
Eventually, Flash bought a bigger bike with training wheels for Cowboy. But even with years of occupational therapy, Cowboy struggled to keep his balance while riding. Like his father, he wanted to go fast; his balance issues slowed him down. Then, our friend Yul gave Cowboy a recumbent bike. Low to the ground, with three wheels and a sling-back canvas chair, it was perfect for him. I had cycle envy, but couldn’t ride the darn thing. Cowboy sat down and immediately took off down the street; he was a boy with newfound freedom.
Always on a quest for the next step in cycle evolution, Flash announced his newest find three years ago. “I’m getting Cowboy a three-wheeler.”
I grabbed a paper bag to prevent hyperventilating. “A three-wheeler?” I pictured my little boy wreaking havoc on a Harley-Davidson Trike. “Are you nuts? Where would he ride that? He can’t steer that yet.”
“A three-wheeled bicycle,” he explained, as he rolled his eyes.
“You mean a tricycle? What are you talking about? He’s too old for a trike. We’re downsizing for our 5’5” son? Our 15-year-old? He’ll look like he’s auditioning for Barnum and Bailey. Let’s stick a red nose and floppy shoes on him and send him to the Big Top. That’ll be his quick ticket to therapy.”
Flash gave me his clearly-you’ve-been-guzzling-the-cooking-wine look.
“No, Einstein. It’s a big three-wheeled bike, for adults.”
I looked at the picture. It was beautiful, with a wire basket on the back and a place for a water bottle. Flash presented the new bike to Cowboy, who took off like he’d been waiting to leave home forever. Which I’m sure he had.
Flash was so inspired, he went out and bought himself a new wheeled toy - a mountain bike. Because we have so many mountains in the Houston area. Then he bought another bike. And another. Stuck in a cycle of acquiring cycles, he bought Cowboy another two-wheeled bike. Then a friend gave Cowboy another quite expensive bike. Somewhere in the midst of all the circular craziness, a wagon, a wheelbarrow, a skateboard, two motorcycles, and a couple of scooters joined the family. At one time, we had 103 wheels in the garage, not including the dogs’ roller skates; I was the only one not rolling through life, outside of a car. It was a lonely, slower existence.
So, I decided to pick out a bike for myself. In Walmart one day, I saw some retro models - styles I thought were nerdy when I got my new state-of-the-art 10-speed a million years ago. Suddenly, old school was cool.
“Can I have a flowered basket?” I batted my eyelashes at Flash.
A red and white Schwinn with a long flat piece that jutted out over the back tire (I’m sure there’s a name for that thingy) was my first choice. I pictured myself wearing cat-eye sunglasses and a psychedelic scarf while riding down my street, the envy of every other woman.
I hopped on and took off down the toy aisle. But not before clearing the road. “You might want to move your children out of my path,” I politely suggested to the judgmental-looking woman in front of me. Flash held onto the back of the bike until I was ready for him to let go. It was my childhood all over again, but this time in fluorescent lighting instead of the glow of streetlights. I was too nervous, it didn’t feel right. Was I destined to be afraid of vehicles that transport millions of small children every day?
Next, I tried a burnt-orange bike. “A University of Texas bike! This looks like it will fit me.”
Again, it felt ten stories tall, even with the seat all the way down.
Then, a brown and teal one caught my eye. “Oh, those are popular colors. When we ride to the store, we can put our stuff in its beautiful matching basket.” Because we ride to the store every eight years.
I got on and took off toward the candle aisle, a risky move. No fear. No hesitation. Nothing but Walmart air-conditioned wind blowing through my hair. I had newfound 50-something-year-old freedom. I got a few weird looks from people who obviously needed to free up their thinking, but I didn’t care. I’d found my next set of wheels.
Being the perpetual victim of mother-guilt, which prevents me from buying large purchases for myself too close to Christmas or Easter or family vacations or other people’s birthdays or days ending in “y,” I haven’t purchased it yet. I’m hoping I’ll get it for my birthday this year, if Flash reads this. Soon, I could hold my head high as I finally ride into the sunset with Flash and Cowboy, with no training wheels.