In 2010, I made a significant life decision. I hadn’t ridden a bike in nearly 30 years, but in September 2010, I purchased a bike after saving up and making payments for three months. My Specialized Ariel Elite, was a hybrid. My first ride was an impressive seven miles long before my butt hurt so bad I couldn’t sit in the saddle any longer. I learned the value of wearing padded pants instead of a padded seat. I rode and rode and rode that bike, Three years later, I purchased my first road bike. That bike taught me how to use my gears. I soon realized that conquering the tough hills in life is less about muscle and more about shifting into the right gear at the right time. I put hours and miles on that bike and I loved her as much as my first bike.
But those bikes are now safely tucked away in a home in Denver, Colorado (yes, so much has changed since I last posted here) while I am living in Vilnius, Lithuania with my husband who is currently working here. (See? A LOT has changed.)
Today, I purchased my third bike for myself. I’ve been involved in the purchases of a number of other bikes for loved ones in my life, but today I purchased a bike that will be my third bike…okay…really my fourth, but I had to get rid of my semi-recumbent bike when I moved to Colorado earlier this summer.
She’s ugly. She’s beat up, dirty, and has been ridden hard and not cleaned up. (I think she’s German which is a good thing. If the Germans design and build bikes like they design and build cars, I’ve just purchased a beautiful machine.) She has a padded seat instead of a thin hard seat like my other two. She’s got scratches in her paint and her labels are peeling off. She’s a big girl. And she’s heavy. Two years ago, she’d have been the last bike I’d ever consider because she’s not Southern-Oregon-speedy-sleek-road-bike-cool. But she’s definitely mine and I definitely love her. Today, I rode her home from the shop so I could clean her up before taking her out on the town. After all, every girl ought to have the opportunity to look nice before heading out on the town. She, at least, deserved that consideration.
My first ride in Vilnius on my own bike, not one of the rented orange sleds the city provides, but my very own bike, was a mere mile long, up a steep hill. She got me most of the way up, and would have taken me the rest of the way, if I had the fitness level to push her and had I not had to slow for pedestrians. Yeah, I know. The pedestrians are an excuse. The truth is I am overweight and out of shape. It’s been a long time since I put any consistent time in at the gym or on a bike. My body shows it. My fitness level is non-existent. So I sucked air up the hill, but made it almost all the way. I didn’t expect to make it that far the first time out, but I did. I’m pleased with that small victory.
In the movie, Avatar, there’s an exchange between Jake Sully and Neytiri, when Jake is tasked with choosing his Ikran, the winged dragon-like flying creature, that goes like this:
Neytiri: Now you choose your Ikran. This you must feel inside. If he also chooses you, move quick like I showed. You will have one chance, Jake.
Jake Sully: How will I know if he chooses me?
Neytiri: He will try to kill you.
Jake Sully: Outstanding.
Choosing a bike, is not so different. This you must feel inside. If the bike also chooses you, move quick. That’s exactly what I did.
Vilnius is a wonderful city for tours of any kind, especially those on bike. Just down the hill from where I live, there is a small shop that provides bike rentals and tours of the city. They also provide another service which they label as a “long term rental” where they sell you a bike and then, after you’ve used it for however long, you can sell it back to them for half the sales price. Since I’m going to be in Vilnius for four more months, and since getting the bike to the next destination with me is not a given, this sounded like a pretty good deal. So, today, I marched down the hill and found the shop. After gazing in the windows for a moment or two, I took a deep breath and tried the door. It’s incredibly nerve-wracking to walk into a place in a foreign country where you have to hope they speak English. Even though this was a place offering tours, likely to many foreigners, I was still nervous. I sucked it up and walked in.
The young Lithuanian man sitting at the desk was working on repairing a collapsible bike. I inquired about bikes for sale, and he showed me two.
“Is that it?” I asked? He then pointed to all that were for sale which was quite a few more. To be honest, the bikes looked like they’d been ridden hard and put away wet and dirty. On the other hand, I figured, maybe I’m coming at this from what is merely an American mindset. Maybe, only in our country, we clean and shine and keep our bikes and cars in immaculate, shiny, bling-worthy condition. I decided to look beyond the surface dirt, which I can easily clean off, to the specifics of the bike. The bones of the bike, if you will.
As I looked over this meager inventory, which was so tightly packed into the small showroom (again, my frame of reference being the large spacious land and shops that I enjoy back home), I realized that I had no idea how to pick out this particular bike that I was looking for. My needs now are different. My riding location is different. My attire and approach to cycling will be completely different. While I will be riding for workout purposes, I will also be riding for transportation around town which means I won’t be wearing my bike kit and special shoes. I’ll be wearing regular every day street clothes, especially as the weather gets colder, wetter and darker here. That’s a big switch for me. I am not prepared for this. For a moment there, I felt lost. I saw some great hybrid bikes that I would have loved. They were Meridas and they were tempting, but they were not what I need in a bike right now. I loved them. They were sexy. But they were not choosing me and I was having none of that. I would have been clumsy and injured, I’m sure of it. I bought some time to think by asking if it was okay to take one out and ride it up the street and back.
The young man said, “Yes, sure.” He picked out a bike for me. Big. Black with tan accents. Deep step through. Good tread on the tires. Fenders. Seven internal gears (I especially was looking for that!) and a front fork with some suspension for the cobbles. This bike, a Ruhrwerk city bike had all those things. I took her for a spin up the block and back.
You must choose the bike, but the bike also chooses you.
There is something I look for in every bike I purchase. I don’t need to ride it for hours to discover this particular quality. The specs on the bike almost become irrelevant, though good bones and components make a difference. The one simple determination for me is how I feel on the bike. When I put the pedals in motion is it effortless or am I struggling? Simply put, when I get on the bike it must feel like I am flying. I must be smiling after one rotation of the pedals, because, God and everyone else knows the ONLY time I really smile is on a bike.
The Ruhrwerk could definitely put out. I pushed on those pedals twice and felt the wind in my hair. I was zipping along! I was surprised that this heavy machine behaved with such finesse. It felt comfortable and I felt I could control the bike rather than it controlling me. She fit. I flew. I bought. I rode her home.
She’s going to need some TLC, but she’s solid. She absolutely flies in 4th gear and I still have three more to explore! I feel better on her than I do on my Ariel, which is a huge concession for me to make. Plus, she’s perfectly suited for Vilnius. She knows this city. She can take me places. She can manage the cobbles and the curves with the best that my Ariel could do and yet I am not forced to swing my leg over the seat to mount her because the step through is deep and oh so convenient. I can ride in my regular every day street clothes and feel okay about it. No more having to change to get ready for a ride. (I did pack a couple pair of padded pants in my suitcase this last trip.) She managed to have enough gearing and power to go up the hill I’ll have to negotiate every time I return home. Had I not been so out of shape, it would have been an easy ride up that incline. In two weeks, I’ll be blazing up it like I’ve been doing it…for two weeks.
Like I said, she’s not pretty. Maybe I should have tried out more bikes just to see. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t need to. I felt it inside. You have to choose your bike, but in the same way…the bike somehow also chooses you. RW had her sights on me before I ever stepped foot in that shop. I know it. She was everything I was looking for. We are going to have some fun together!