My husband, Frank, and I recently took a guided bike tour of Boston. Somebody gave us a gift certificate for the experience when we were leaving New York.
The second I mounted my ride, I told the wiry woman leading the tour that the seat felt too high, but she thought it looked fine and I am easily persuaded so I decided, okay, I’ll leave the seat raised. Whenever the tour stopped and I needed to lower my feet from the pedals to the ground, I was en pointe like the graceful yet tortured prima ballerina I aspire to be.
Then of course during one of the stops, while I was dutifully admiring some historic row houses, straddling my bike, and trying to maintain a delicate balance on my tippy-toes all at the same time, I fell over, skinning my knee and ripping a hole in my pants.
The mishap did not, in my opinion, elicit sufficient sympathy from the other tourgoers, except of course for good ol’ trusty Frank, who remained by my side to look at me with pity in his big brown eyes as I applied a Band-Aid. That item came from the inevitable fanny pack worn by the wiry guide. She also stayed behind, having sent the rest of the group on to Copley Square under the leadership of her lieutenant.
Those heartless pedal pushers rolled away without a backward glance. Earlier, I had congratulated one of them, a mom from Georgia, after she made a big deal about her daughter getting into Boston University. Now I hoped the girl’s roommate used one of those noisy sleep apnea machines.
I would have been fine with returning to the bike shop after my fall, but the guide rushed us to catch up with the others at the spot where the Boston Marathon ends every year. Turns out the guide had tales she wanted to share about her passion for running, which I guess is what she does when she’s not bicycling, tour-guiding, or dispensing unreliable advice on seat height. Heaven knows where she finds the energy.
This was not the first bike accident I was ever involved in. As a matter of fact, the first bike accident I was ever involved in holds a cherished spot in Thompson family lore.
I was around 5 years old, and my father had removed the training wheels from my bicycle without my permission. When he tried to teach me how to pedal the big-boy way, I promptly fell off the conveyance and onto the unforgiving pavement of our driveway. Outraged by this turn of events, I announced that I would never ride a bicycle again and went back inside in a royal huff.
To be honest, I don’t remember any of this episode, but I have heard my father tell the story so many times that it almost feels genuinely lodged in my memory.
It certainly sounds like me: risk-averse, mad at gravity, prone to dramatic exit lines. I hope I said it like Scarlett O’Hara: “As God is my witness, I’ll nevuh set this rump on a velocipede again!”
But, as I mentioned, I am ultimately easy to persuade, so I did learn at some point how to ride a bicycle without training wheels—though obviously not very well, as the people of Boston, one empathy-deprived mom from Georgia, and the rip in my dark blue jeans can attest.