Did you ever hear tell of Sweet Betsy the Bike? She’s my new Electra Cruiser 7D, and she’s the first bike that I have ever owned that I have actually liked and enjoyed riding. In mid-March my physical therapist told me that I could graduate from the indoor stationary cycle to riding a real bicycle outdoors in order to assist with my ACL rehab. As that stage in my recovery when my beloved hiking was still out of the question, I was willing to do anything to get back outdoors, even ride a bike. I’ve had a Calvin versus the Bike terror of bicycles ever since I was a kid, so the concept of re-learning how to ride again as a grown-up, while injured, was….horrifying. But so help me God, I was going to do it!
When I was little I lived on a tidy one-block long street full of responsible parents who taught their kids how to ride bikes. My dad (God rest his soul) undertook the task of teaching me how to ride too, with the idea that we would all go for a family bike ride every now and then. (Ironic, since I had never seen him or my mother on a bike before). They gave me a pretty rainbow bike with streamers and a basket with plastic daisies on it, and the all-important training wheels. I remember tooling along very happily on my bike, honking my horn and wondering how to get our poodle to fit into my tiny plastic basket.
And then, oh then, came the day that my dad took off the training wheels. I don’t think that he prepared me for how drastically my life was going to change after that day. After he took the trainers off and I was only on two big wheels, he gave me a big push and trotted alongside me as I screamed in utter terror. Despite the sound effects to the contrary, my maiden voyage was not a total disaster. I believe it was the third or fourth that was the disaster. I crashed hard when my dad wasn’t looking. After I untangled myself from the bicycle I ran into the house shrieking with blood streaming from my knees, elbows, and chin. I was DONE riding bikes. FOREVER! I spent the next few weeks picking at the thick scabs on my knees and wondering how to plan my life around walking everywhere.
Somehow, despite my sheer abject terror of the torture machine on wheels, I actually did learn how to ride a bike, but I certainly did not enjoy myself. “Let’s ride bikes!” was the mantra of all my friends on the block, and they rode all over the neighborhood like a band of land-pirates. They went everywhere – to the park, even all the way to the Mall of the Bluffs, which was nearby. In order to appease them, I would occasionally make a half-hearted attempt at joining them. This would usually consist of me riding with them to our elementary school and then remembering that I had something else to do that day, and turning around for home. I was very well aware of the fact that my decision against bike-riding was leaving me out the most important social activity on the block, but I was okay with that as long as I wasn’t in harm’s way. As I watched them ride off into the distance, I would breathe a little sigh of momentary jealousy and then return happily to my books.
Despite my non-bike-riding status, my parents somehow convinced themselves that I needed a new bike once I outgrew my rainbow streamer days. One day when I was a young teenager my mother hauled me over to a neighbor’s garage sale and made me hand over $25 for a used bike. It was a full-on road cycle with drop bars and a seat that was way WAY high up off the ground. Quite the terrifying different from my tame children’s bike. Trying to ride a bike all hunched over, when my legs didn’t even come close to touching the ground when I was stopped was a total disaster for me. I hated every single minute of it. And so, my teenage road bike sat propped up against my mom’s ancient 1960s blue road bike for years until they sold it. Goodbye, horrible torture machine.
Fast forward a little more than a decade, when I was living about a mile away from the college where I worked in Tennessee. I lived in a sweet little historic neighborhood and decided that I should either walk or ride a bike to work every day during the summertime. Apparently I had forgotten how much I had previously hated riding bikes – 7 years of college and grad school will erase parts of your memory. One of my girlfriends told me that I could borrow her road bike. She was much taller than I was and had her seat set super-high up in the air. Skinny bike frame, high seat, drop bars. I took a very wobbly and terrified ride around her block and decided that maybe I should walk that mile to work every day instead. (Which I did, and it was tremendous fun).
When I moved back home to Colorado Springs in 2009 I rented a townhouse about 2 miles away from my workplace, with the idea that I would continue walking to work every nice day. After walking that route a few times in the summer, I realized the extra mile thrown in there and the extra 15 minutes that involved in the morning made this idea impractical. So I decided that I was going to learn how to ride a bike like a real person and commute to work on bicycle. I had seen the sturdy mountain bikes around town looking so approachable and thought perhaps those were the ticket to my biking happiness. I was delighted to realize that they make comfort bikes for grown-ups, and set out to get one for myself. I settled on the choice between a Trek Navigator 2.0 and an Electra Townie. I loved the Townie because my feet could touch the ground when I was stopped!!!!! But I ended up buying the Trek because I thought that a 28-year-old should gosh darn learn how to ride a real bike and not need her feet to touch the ground. And because I was living in Colorado again, I clearly needed a bike that could handle mountain trails.
I brought my pretty blue hybrid bike home and relearned how to ride a bike as a grown-up. I lived close to a bike trail and would go out for very short rides after work. I even managed to commute by bike a few times. BUT….my poor derriere! Riding for just 10 minutes would sharp pains shooting from my back into my legs and I would have to get off the bike and take a break before I could even sit on the seat again. This didn’t seem to be a self-correcting problem either because even when I was riding on a fairly regular basis it would still hurt. I equated bike riding with being in pain, and eventually gave up all together. I moved to a new neighborhood a few miles away and with a sigh of relief gave up on the idea of bike commuting.
So, fast forward to April 2014. I finally had a reason to want to make bike riding work for me. Getting outdoors and making my stupid knee better! Knowing my back-story now, you can my personal challenge here. I took a cautious ride around my neighborhood on my Trek hybrid. The problem was, even that comfort bike has a seat set up too high to touch the ground, and I knew that as I was getting back into riding, I had absolutely no room for error on my injured leg. Any sort of incorrect dismount could re-injure my ACL and there was no way I wanted that to happen. So I began to ponder a solution. I needed…I needed….I needed that Electra bike that I should have bought in the first place!
While I was on a trip to Monterey, California, in March I had the chance to rent an Electra Townie to ride along the coast. Gorgeous and so much fun! Because my feet touched the ground I wasn’t scared of the bike and and even bicycle-fearing-I enjoyed myself tremendously. When I returned home, I went to a store in Denver (no stores in my town had Electras in stock) and tested out their selection of Electras to buy for myself. I had gone to the shop expecting to get the Townie because I knew that would be more versatile on our hilly Colorado terrain, but a pink Cruiser 7D won me over. The moment I got on it, I felt such a freedom on a bike that I had never known before. I was sitting bolt upright, my hands were in a relaxed position on the handlebars, and that opened-up riding position felt wonderful. My feet could touch the ground so I wasn’t afraid of falling off, and since I wasn’t afraid of anything I just rode.
I’ve had my Sweet Betsy the Bike for a little over a month now and I love her. For a girl who has hated every bike she’s ever encountered, this is huge for me. While I am still getting used to riding on a city street with traffic again, riding Betsy feels about as safe and steady as riding my rainbow cruiser did when I was little. This afternoon I took the first bike ride that I actually truly enjoyed and felt totally at east with – in my whole life. Betsy and I figured out how to get across busy Colorado Ave at a stress-free intersection and we made it to the Midland trail. Sitting relaxed and upright on Betsy in the mild summer air, I’m sure I was grinning from ear-to-ear the whole time I was riding today. She’s the first bike to ever make me smile and want to say “wheeeeee!”
So, take that fancy road bikes and Colorado-centric mountain bikes. There’s a new game in town and it doesn’t cause pain or terror, nor does it really care that it can’t go at lightning speeds or trump the tallest hills. Sweet Betsy the Electra Cruiser Bike just cares about making me really happy.