Look, I’m going to level you here. All of you are paragons of coordination and health. Look at you – you probably eat salads by choice, or drink –wait let me get this word right – water every day.
I am without athletic inclination. My breakfast is a litre of coffee and packet of cigarettes and I have a tantrum whenever my 12 year old daughter makes me salad for dinner. Your bodies have muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones…you know, all that shit. My body on the other hand is a network of awkwardness and confusion.
As a child, I preferred thumb sucking and continual naps to any of the backyard scraps normal kids got up to. My entire toddlerhood was spent sucking my thumb while rubbing a satin blanket. In fact, the only way to get me actually in the backyard was to wash the blanket…so I could continue holding onto the blanket as it dried.
This rejection of physical activity in favour of cheap fabric was never more clear than in 1980 when I was a set to make my athletic debut at the age of 4 at the Syndal North Primary School’s athletic carnival. Thanks to the wolves that raised me (I went through the 70s), I was wearing a lavender satin jogging outfit that screamed Donna Summer does Decathalon and was primed to my very best.
Did I run? Did I beat the others? Or did I give up on shuffling through the race halfway to rub my satin-clad arse and suck my thumb? Screw the competition: my arse was great. Still is.
This unholy mix of complete lack of physical interest and ability to do the most embarrassing thing possible truly found its home in bike riding.
I remember being taught how to ride by my father. My memories basically centred around his large 6’4’ frame propelling me down laneways and just wishing for the best (this is where pure optimism tries to meet the laws of physics and results in a screaming four year old on the ground).
Months later, emboldened by that nurturing parental experience, I decided to be cool and visit my best friend Mari with my sisters bike. Now, I couldn’t ride it, true, but that didn’t stop me. I just walked it over and thought the ability to just lay it against their verandah would give me some cool points. This was a great plan until 2 hours later when the world’s most polite Japanese family insisted on watching me ride out of their court….only to see me fall off the bike every 10 centimetres. Despite the fact the family were literally screeching with hyperventilating laughter, I persisted in pretending I could ride a bike past several houses.
Somehow, I eventually learnt how to ride, which I can only imagine came about by some sort of faustian pact, which seems excessive for a chronically uncoordinated 5 year old.
But like all hellish contracts, what you ask for is not always what is delivered. I mean, sure, I could ride a bike….in a sense…but it never quite worked out well.
Like that time in Byron Bay I put my then 4 year old on a borrowed bike so we could ride in search of fish and chips. As a height challenged person whose hips often don’t meet adult bicycle seats, I decided that I would wear really, really high heeled boots because I’m a thinker.
Such logic failed the first test of getting my feet over the bike because not only am I physically uncoordinated and ridiculous, I’m also entirely without grace. Please imagine an awkward woman trying to get her short but high heeled legs to mount a bike with an increasingly fried-carb-crazed 4 year old already strapped onto the bike seat. Now imagine carb-fry-seeking woman in colossal heels attempting to push a borrowed bike uphill with a kid on the back while men drive by in their stationwagons to catcall. I do actually really hope this is one of my kid’s first memories because it says a lot about our lives: her calmly watching me, screaming down a hill, not fully in control but yelling at men.
We did end up having a slightly better riding experience during my Tokyo days. While hanging out with another friend, we had done what all mothers end up doing, getting shitfaced drunk to confirm every stereotype one might hold of single mothers. However, we needed more booze. What followed was nice people smiling and waving at two drunk mothers balancing three sugardrunk kids under the age of 6 across two bikes through the very lovely Nishi-Ogukibo prefecture at night as we all screamed with joy and confusion. Perhaps it was the booze, perhaps it was the ability to chain smoke cheap cigarettes while riding (and sometimes two at once), perhaps it was the complete lack of bike helmets and a clue, but believe me when I say this was my best biking and parenting moment.
This made me confident – this made me think I *could* ride a bike back in Melbourne so I decided to buy one. I don’t know what happens when you’re making a decision about buying a bike – perhaps you consider preferred behaviour, try out a few models, talk with friends and research online. Meh.
Now, had I thought about this a smidge, I possibly would have factored in some important features to make bike riding easier. Like maybe a bike with a lowered crossbar so I could get my legs across. Or a bike at my height.
But no. I found out there was a black bike called Smoke and bought it without even trying it.
I also broke the bike chain within five minutes.
I just wanted to be one of those women, gorgeous ruddy-faced women, crisp and alive from a brisk ride to work who went on to do other amazing things like be productive, not cry in the bathroom and maintain adequate levels of hydration. Those women are amazing.
Instead the bike languished in my apartment as a really expensive coat rack.
A friend badgered me to take part in the Ride to Work day. I got out the bike. After a year of neglect, I realised I had to pump up the tires but had no idea how hard they needed to be.
I wobbled down Batman Ave on a bike made of marshmellow. By the time I got to the intersection, I wobbled on the bike in front of all the peak hour traffic who had wisely decided to not ride their bikes. I was sort of standing there, on my bike, but I’m wobbling. I’m wobbling because I have a bike taller than me and my feet don’t really touch the ground and if I try to step one foot down onto the ground the cross bar will end up giving me a complimentary pap smear it’s so damn high.
But fuck it, I was due for a pap smear so let’s try it.
I fell off a bike. Correction. I fell off a STATIONARY bike in FRONT OF PEAK HOUR TRAFFIC.
I tried again and again my delightfully clouded head got to taste Batman Ave’s bitumen. It was like Mari’s house all over again.
But this time, I did what any respectable 35 year old who had fallen off a bike TWICE in front of peak hour traffic could do: I threw a motherfucking tantrum.
I walked my bike over to the tram stop, chained it and emailed my friends with the subject line “FREE BIKE” and shared its location and code to unlock the chain. The email ended with “If it’s still there and you’ve picked it up, please take a photo of yourself with said bike. The rest of us will be outside smoking and drinking daiquiris.”
So I salute you pushy women. I salute your ability to work with the laws of physics. I commend your ability to push past the dickhead drivers, arrive at locations with a ruddy gorgeous face and generally not make a dick of yourself.
Sure, I’m a menace on two wheels who makes bad decisions but it could be worse: imagine if I learnt how to drive?