Theme: The new thing I tried
by Laura Gene
I’ve ridden 104 miles on a bicycle in the hilly, winery-laden land of Sonoma, California…all 104 in one-day, an entire work day, like eight hours. And yes, your bum does hurt after sitting for hours on a hard tiny triangular rock they call a seat. That thing nestles right up into your business, and not in a good way. You get used to it though, that and the pins-and-needles numbness in your naughty bits.
I’ve cross-trained at gyms on recumbent bikes (aka the La-Z-Boy bike) and left a sweat puddle below my spin bike station on numerous occasions. I even have a second-hand spin bike in line of sight of the TV, to alleviate my guilt about watching a third straight episode of [fill in popular episodic series here]. I am no stranger to the ole’ bike, but to ride it from Point A to Point B and not for exercise? You might as well be speaking Chinese. Where I grew up in the Midwest, getting around required four wheels, a transmission and air-conditioning.
Despite the years of butt numbness training under my belt, I never felt less prepared to steer a set of handlebars than through the city streets of Shanghai–not even when my seven-year-old self first wobbled along the suburban pavement on my pink banana-seat cruiser. The modernized streets are strewn with potholes and comprised of bumpy layers of asphalt on top of mottled layers of rocky cement on top of 100-year-old sewage pipes. Skilled craftsmen, the road crew are not. But the shoddy roads provide a good leg workout alternating hamstrings and quads. (This helps to avoid further crotch-bruising.) I don’t glide around on a steel-framed, knobby-tired mountain bike with hydraulic shocks; I rock a black rusted-framed cruiser with a warped front basket, worn-out hand-brakes that squeal when pinched and a chain that’s turning a beautiful shade of orange sunshine. Just by feel, my ass can call out every coin, construction debris or fallen leaf I ride over. It’s a new-found gift.
The roadways are the least of my worries. It took over a month of playing real-life human Frogger to finally figure out how to cross the damn street on foot. It’s organized chaos at best. The craziness is what thrills and terrifies me.
Slick imported autos cut off traffic with premature left turns. Compact cars with brand logos you’ve never heard of fling their left doors open without caution. Reckless city buses speed through town slowing for no one and no thing. Taxis pound their horns incessantly for no apparent reason. Expatriates cruise in their matte-black Vespas on their way to work. Chinese moms steer mopeds while straddling their kids hunched down below the handlebars in front of them. Hipsters prop up high on their white-wheeled neon fixies. Silent e-bikes sneak through the motor pack seamlessly. Single-speed motorized carts hog the right lane, overflowing with bags of freshly baked bao or a hundred stacked Styrofoam blocks expertly roped together. This overcrowded web of noise and exhaust and constant obstacles is exhilarating. Who knew riding a bike a few kilometers to yoga class could be so rewarding.
Riding a bike around Shanghai has changed me, more than those 104 miles ever did. Forget assertive. I am aggressive now, no longer the polite Texan: No, you go first. No, no, after you. No really, you should go. It’s every woman for herself. And I’ve never been that woman, or at the very least never felt like her. I ride into oncoming traffic to pass that e-bike dawdling along at 8 mph. I scream at that jackass who cut this laowai off on purpose, and that taxi who took a hard right and crunched into my bike. When I ride this crappy old bike I bought for $50 from a tiny pregnant lady, I have a single focus, only looking straight ahead.
…I had no idea I could do that.