Pedal Power Lesson

My brother-in-law's bike was no bike at all.

  It was a Friday afternoon in early September and the cooling temperatures brought with them the anticipation of a fun fall season. I took the day off work and was well through the honey-do list when Lori and I drove into Prairie Village to visit her brother. As Lori stepped out of the car to greet her sister-in-law, I peered into the open garage and saw it leaning against the wall of the garage.

   Her brother’s bicycle. 

   I climbed out of the car and walked up to it. It sat forlorn in his garage, juxtaposed against clutter that, unlike the bike, had no value whatsoever.

   But the bike made a statement. I noticed no kick stand, and lots of wear and tear — like old boots whose abrasions embody countless stories.

   Lori’s brother is a fitness freak. Not a “pump iron” type, but an “always on the go” type. He ran the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii some 20 years ago, and a couple years later took on the NYC marathon just for kicks. In June when I invited him to run with me in the Hospital Hill, I witnessed a stretching regiment during a rain delay before we started. Which wouldn’t be unusual except his stretching regiment was in Panera Bread at Crown Center. On the floor. Jammed with customers ordering spinach bacon soufflés. 

   When the race started, I had the privilege to observe his back for 10, 15 seconds.  You know that guy in races who looks like he ran from his house to the starting line? Breaking news: he also owns a bike.

   I had seen this bike before. From time to time he rides to our house and then walks in the door with more gear than most astronauts — tight pants, a helmet, gloves, water tubes extending down his back.

   But now I was getting a close inspection. One thing was quite obvious: this was not a bike.

   A bike is something made by Schwinn, with pedals, handle bars — the kind of thing you dress up with playing cards on the spoke. Something that invites you to jump on, relax and take a leisurely stroll through town.

   That was not what I was staring at.

   There were no pedals — just knobs like at the end of a baseball bat. I lifted it; like it was a couple coat hangers with two rubber tubes masquerading as wheels. There were computers and hoses and wires. Two types of handle bars. Taped. Expensive. Complicated.

   Absolutely nothing in the piece of equipment said, “Let’s have fun. Relax! Take your time! Pop a wheelie. Grab a pump! Let’s go to the Prairie Village shops and get a waffle cone and some cotton candy!”

   Most sensible people would have simply noted the obvious, and slowly retreated and gone on to other business, like pursuing that waffle cone.

   That’s not what happened. 

   To call it a mistake would be like describing Custer’s Little Big Horn a “bad call.”

   I tried to ride it.

   I swung my leg around and placed my bottom on the seat. It wasn’t a seat. Someone apparently stole the seat.

   What my butt landed on was a thin bar with the thickness of a pencil. When my entire weight rested on it, every nerve ending that traveled through my body came alive. My adipose tissue got jolted. My prostate made a quick retreat. Other parts of the body immediately adjacent did a physiologic equivalent of WTH?  I shifted things around, and then again, to no avail. Further elaboration is not necessary.

   No change.

   And what crossed my brain next was the second mistake.

   “Maybe it gets better if you start to move.”

   I worked the pedals, which had their own challenges with my Chuck Taylor Converse. At some point Lori looked up to see the spectacle. Imagine John Candy riding a unicycle with no seat and no pedals. The bike was wobbling, my pain was growing and just then Lori’s brother pulled up.

   I was at risk of damaging the most valuable thing he owned.

   No matter.

   He laughed. I cried. I carefully dismounted the “thing” — and began to search for a good physical therapist.