When it comes to biking, I have a childlike fascination with people who can pedal with no hands. I see them go by every now and then and I can’t help it, my mouth drops open. Their knees pump smoothly up and down while they tie their bandanna or adjust their shirt or just cross their arms. They lean ever so slightly to take a turn, to change lanes, or to manage bumps in the road. I always wondered how they learned to do that. I was impressed before, but now that balance is even more of an issue for me, it looks like pure magic.
On my way home from an errand the other day, I ran into a friend of mine and he got on my bike while we chatted. He posed and postured, doing some balance tricks by squeezing the brakes and standing on the pedals. I protested, worried that he’d snap something and I’d be forced to walk three miles home. And then he did it. He went a ways down the block and started back towards me, pedaling with no hands. All of a sudden I was six again, and he was the greatest magician ever.
“You can do it too, y’know. It’s all about balance and shifting.” He winked and flashed a grin as he gave me back my bike.
That night I met a couple of friends for a movie. Afterwards, as as we parted and I went to unlock my bike (of course), I thought about my other friend’s daring wink. I had to try it. The three long blocks from the avenue to my building were quiet and empty. There was no one around to see me if I fell. I had no balance and I didn’t know how to shift. So I veered into a row of parked cars and missed scratching the paint on one of them by a few inches. I tried again and hurt my crotch as I jammed on the brakes and slid forward off the seat. After thirty minutes of going up and down the block, accumulating bruises and frustration, the whole thing didn’t seem so magical anymore. I was annoyed that I had considered being able to do something so inaccessible. I leaned my bike on the curb to walk off some soreness and decided to head in, I had a dog to walk after all. I didn’t want to care about it, but I couldn’t leave it alone. I doubled back to the top of the block and tried one more time. I shifted, and pulled, and pushed, and leaned for another hour under the streetlights. I lifted my hands off the handlebars, haltingly, fingers spread, my face twisted with focus. It was happening. Just before the end of the block my palms were both facing forward, the wind sailing through my fingers. I caught the magic. I was flying!