A biking tale by Joy Renee Selnick
The first bike I remember getting when I was little was this awesome plastic Fonzie motorcycle bike. Yes. You read that correctly: Fonzie. Motorcycle. Bike. (Jealous?) Of course, it was a clunky plastic thing with training wheels just painted to look like a motorcycle. But I tell ya… I was the coolest kid on Colonial Drive. I loved that thing and rode it everywhere I could… which was basically within the confines of the yard and my mother’s watchful eye. I can’t recall what happened, but I may have tried to take it off-roading one day (innocently shrugs with a devilish grin). Let’s just say it somehow wound up with a giant gash in the front tire. Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of my future biking experience.
When I got a little older, my aunt and uncle gave me and my sister nearly identical Schwinn bikes. Two-wheelers. Mine was pink (of course). It meant freedom! Riding around the neighborhood… Playing with obstacle courses in the backyard… Pretending I was actually driving a convertible down Route 66. To the outside world, we were just a couple of kids riding in circles. To us, it was everything.
I had that pink Schwinn for a long time and through many adventures (of which I cannot divulge… it’s top secret Bond-type stuff here) but, unfortunately, I outgrew it. So one year for Christmas, my parents gave me a very grown-up 10 speed. You mean bikes have different gears?! It was a nice bike, a pretty bike (candy apple red) but difficult to get used to. After years of having only one speed and back pedaling brakes, this thing with multiple gears and skinny tires was just awkward and not much fun. I was also a teenager too busy doing my teenage thing to really enjoy it. And so it sat. And sat. And sat. Occasionally I used it while on vacation in the Poconos, but not for much else. And so, after collecting dust and cobwebs, it was sold. And I stopped riding any bike for many years.
Fast-forward a number of years when a certain boy entered the picture. (Ah yes. Boys. They’ll get you every time.) Steve and his friends mountain biked. A lot. Some even raced. And it looked like fun. A lot of fun. BUT! I no longer had a bike. So one day I borrowed my youngest sister’s old mountain bike and we decided to go for a ride and cheer for some friends at one of those races. But I had no helmet and my sister’s bike was way too big for me, so for safety reasons, we didn’t do much riding. Dilemma. Dilemma. Dilemma.
But I got to see the mountain bike racers coming through and I got a little taste of the trails and I KNEW I wanted to mountain bike. I just needed a darn bike. I went to some bike shops with my father to test out some bikes but none of them fit quite right or were in my price range. I had been out of the biking game for a long time and had no idea of the prices and options a bike could have. I couldn’t wrap my head around it all. Do I need a fork with a lock out? What does that even mean? Disc brakes? There is more than one type of brakes? Stand over height? Clipless pedals? Women specific? (Bikes have genders?!) Ugggh. How does anyone buy a bike anymore?
Finally, after much research (or should I say annoying friends with a million questions), a friend’s brother who worked in a bike shop helped me out. I wound up buying a very heavy, basic Trek mountain bike. Women’s specific. Aluminum frame. V-brakes. And flat pedals. Whew! That was a mouthful. But now I could start my long awaited mountain biking adventures! With a new helmet on my head, my bike all ready to go and the spirit of the outdoors within me, I set out to start riding my new bike.
And I fell… A lot.
Mountain biking was a lot harder than I expected. As a former gymnast, I thought I was strong and in shape and I could kick some dirt trail butt. I could do back handsprings on the floor and kips on the bars and handsprings on the vault. I mean, I was strong! And I had previous biking experience! I rode a Fonzie motorcyle for crying out loud! But fall after fall, those trails taught me a valuable lesson: gravity works.
So for a few seasons, I suffered. I suffered trying to ride up giant hills. I suffered trying to maintain control going down hills. I banged my shins. I flew over the handlebars. I had trouble riding over roots and rocks. I got scared if there was a drop off on one side of the trail. I drew blood on just about every ride I did. And my confidence dropped. And I started to become afraid of the bike.
I hated feeling defeated. I hated seeing other people riding and having fun. I hated feeling like I was holding up everyone else on group rides. I hated spending so much money on first aid supplies. So I decided I needed to fight back. I wasn’t going to let the bike or the trails get the best of me.
And so I fought. I went on more women’s group rides. I learned how to ride clipless pedals. I rode my bike around town and on rail trails more just so I could be on the bike. I joined in on a competition that dared bikers to ride at least an hour every day in July. I became more involved with biking organizations like BikeWalkTown and MTBNJ. Little by little I’m becoming more comfortable on my bike and little by little I’m realizing how strong I really am… and how much fun my bikes really are. I’m still careful about how I ride, but I’m not letting a little challenge like a hill or log stop me. So what if I can’t make it up a big hill without stopping? So what if there’s an obstacle in the trail I can’t bike over? I am out riding! In the sun and rain, in the heat, with friends or by myself… I am riding… and enjoying every moment of it.
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