July 5, 2010

The Wheels on the Bike

Last Friday my parents bought Briton a bike for an early birthday present. And not just a bike. A BIKE. A 21 speed, shocks on the wheels, last him for years type of bike. And it's opened up a whole new world of possibilities for us.

He's needed a bike for about a year, struggling along with the little Schwinn that he got for his fourth birthday even though it was too small. But I didn't even realize he was that interested (he does have a scooter after all). When I mentioned the idea of a bike he told me that he didn't need anything else for his birthday if he could just have a bike.Whoops. Guess we should have thought of that before!

Two years ago this fall, we started biking on the weekends, looking for trails that were easy enough for Briton to ride without gears, and for me to ride with my $20 craigslist bike loaded down with Evelyn's ibert bike seat. There wasn't a lot out there, too many hills for his little legs to deal with on a dirt bike. Even riding from our hour to down town was out because of the big hill that lies in between. But now, man oh man, what 21 gears can do. The kid can ride anywhere.

I remember getting my first geared bike, a 10-speed Schwinn for Christmas when I was in 5th grade. My parents hid it in our root cellar and sent me down on Christmas morning "to get the cinnamon rolls". I was so excited that I almost couldn't speak. Almost. But I also sort of thought they had forgotten that it was down there and that I wasn't supposed to see the bike, so up I came with the cinnamon rolls, shaking with excitement.

Later that day I rode on the icy streets of our Northern Idaho town, feeling very high up on my shiny red bike with it's curly handlebars and its tiny seat, nothing like the purple hand me down with the banana seat that I'd learned to ride on. Having a "real" bike gave me an odd feeling of freedom.

This weekend we biked a lot. We rode on the flat, paved trail that winds along the Rivanna River, we rode around the neighborhood. We rode to the farmers market to bring back fresh blackberries, we even rode to the pool and found that, while it's a little bit of a battle to get there, it's all downhill home. Briton, who I thought would take a while to figure out gears, is already a pro. He tells us "I'm switching to seven now, I'm going back to three! Mom? Are you on one? I'm on one!" He also hilariously called out "fore!" when we were coming up on someone as we rode. When I explained that "fore" was for golf, not bikes he concluded that "for biking, it must be "six!""Evelyn, in her little green seat, is, of course, dying to be on a big bike too, but really just wants to come along for the ride so she can hold her hands up in the air when we come down a hill and wave at everyone we pass.

All this bicycling has me dredging up old dreams of car-less living. I hate to drive. I really, really hate it. I do it, but it's a little like scrubbing toilets for me. It has to be done, so it gets done. Except there's a part of me that wonders how much it really has to be done.

When we lived in Dublin we had no car, and it was fine. Will rode his bike to work, Briton and I rode the trains and the buses or just walked where we needed to go. And I loved it, but Dublin is also a different beast than Charlottesville. You can live your whole life in a square mile or less and have access to just about everything you need. American cities aren't like that. They aren't built for compact living. In Portland we considered it, staying car-less, using bikes and public transit, except we were about to have a newborn in the house, and I couldn't wrap my head around trying it with two kids in tow, one of them a teeny little girl who would not be ready for a bike trailer or seat anytime soon. So we became dependent on the car very quickly.

Over the last three days Will and I have had a lot of discussions about the "if's" and "how's" of living car-lite. We've come to the conclusion that car-free wouldn't work at this point in our lives. Mostly because of the ongoing house renovations, as was evidenced by two separate trips to Lowe's this weekend for paint (Exterior! Yay! more on that later) But we could, we have decided, work on our car usage, cut down a lot, ride a whole lot more. Of course we'd have to replace my bike (how terrible) since it only likes three of it's 15 gears, and Evelyn should graduate to a trailer since her legs are bit long for her seat. If we could find the European style of front mounted seats I'd go that way since I've loved having her in front of me. And if I won the lottery, well, there would be this, which is just so pretty I want to hug it. But yeah, I'm thinking that I'm not going to get to go from a $20 bike to a $1300 one. Sigh, such is life. And then there is the fact that it will be 99 degrees almost every day this week, which, well, I don't think I can handle while riding, but we'll see, maybe I'll surprise myself.