Last week I bought a bike. The last bike I owned had a banana seat, streamers, and to get it to stop, you peddled backwards. Needless to say, it’s been a while. I’ve ridden bikes since then, but not very often. I’ve been 5’2 since 6th grade (which also happens to be around the time I stopped riding my bike) and my short legs can often make bike riding awkward. Take stopping for instance. When you have short legs, it’s almost impossible to remain on the seat when you are completely stopped. Not only do you look awkward because your bike is tilted at a 25degree angle so you can touch the ground, but getting the momentum to start up again is almost impossible.
When I was in college, I managed to take the awkward bike riding factor to a whole new level. A friend of mine who had gonehome over the weekend, had returned with a tandem bike she had found in her parents’ basement. To say this bike was a little old, would be a generous compliment. It looked a little bit like 2 Pee-wee Herman bikes stuck together (with a lot less fancy, and a lot more rust). This tandem, much like my childhood bike, had been neglected for quite some time.
One afternoon, my friend Sarah and I had some time to spare, so we decided to give the ‘ol tandem a try. Aside from the rust the bike looked pretty sound. The pedals worked, the breaks worked, the chain was pretty solid… the only flaw had to do with the seats. The lever to raise and lower the seats seemed to be rusted stuck. For my long-legged friend Sarah, this wasn’t a real concern, but for me, this posed a slight problem.
Me: “I’m not sure how we’re going to do this. If I sit in the back, I’ll be useless. I can’t reach the pedals or steer and you’ll just be dragging me around. If I sit in the front, I’ll be able to at least steer, and I can pedal if I stand up…”
Sarah: “We got this. I’ll push off really hard, and you start peddling and keep us going in the right direction.”
It sounded simple enough. Our goal was to just go straight and ride the bike from our dorm to the other one that was 200 feet down the sidewalk.
Sarah: “Okay, get ready. One… two… three…”
At this point a few things happened simultaneously.
1. We did not have enough momentum to go more an a couple of inches.
2. When you have no momentum, you cannot balance your weight enough to stand up to pedal.
3. When these first 2 things happen, you start to laugh which causes your arms to go weak, which forces you to lose any control you might have had to steer.
I jerked the bike to a hard left, causing us both to instantly tip over.
Sarah: “What was that? Clearly we need a new strategy.”
Me: “You were making ma laugh, and I couldn’t steer. Plus, it’s really hard to stand up and pedal with this bar here.”
Sarah: “How about, you sit on the seat and keep us pointed forward, and I’ll push off and start pedaling really hard. Once we get going to can pedal too.”
I liked this plan. Sit and hold the bars steady. I could do that.
Sarah: “Okay. One… two… three…
I gripped the handle bars with two steady arms and we started to move forward. I heard and a couple of grunting noises from Sarah, and again, after rolling another couple of inches, we stared to tip over.
Me: “What was that? You were doing great. Why’d you stop?”
Sarah: “I couldn’t help it. It’s really hard to pedal for both of us, and you look so ridiculous with your legs sticking straight out.”
Me: “Come on Sarah. We got this.”
We did not. After a few more failed attempts we had covered about 3 feet, and it was time to restrategize.
This might be a good time to mention that the 3 feet we had covered, wasn’t exactly on our initial trajectory. Instead of going straight 3 feet towards our goal, we had gone diagonally… towards a light pole firmly planted at the intersection of our sidewalk and another sidewalk that veered down a rather steep hill. At the base of the light pole was a giant mud puddle.
Sarah: “Okay. This time as soon as we get going, like right away- as soon as we start moving, you have to start pedaling. It’s the only way this is going to work.”
Me: “Right. But let’s straighten out first. We’re headed towards that puddle and I don’t want to crash.”
Sarah: “Oh. Good thinking.”
We lined the bike back up with the sidewalk, I assumed my position: sitting on the front seat with my arms firmly planted and my legs sticking out so I could quickly get in on this pedaling action. Sarah assumed her position: sitting on the back seat, one foot balancing on the ground, the other poised to set us both cruising…
Sarah: “For real this time. Whatever happens just keep pedaling. I know we can do this.”
Me: “Got it. Don’t stop no matter what.”
Sarah: “One… Two… Three…”
And just like that we were off. The bike was moving forward, my arms were a bit shaky, but we were moving… yes. We were moving… time to start pedaling…
I slid off the seat found a pedal with my foot and started to… Something was wrong. We were losing momentum fast.
Sarah: “Pedal! Do it! Help me! Help me! You’ve got to Pedal!”
I pulled on the handle bars with all my might trying to maximize my body weight against the pedal. I pedaled once, twice… my arms could not hold our course. Again we were slowly drifting towards the light pole.
I couldn’t do it. I could not steer and pedal at the same time. The bike continued to veer towards the light pole and we started to tip. We were going down. We were going to tip, and I was going to land right in the middle of that giant puddle. Not used to handle bar breaks, I tried to pedal backwards but nothing happened.
Me: “Stop! Stop! I can’t stop!”
Sarah: “What are you doing? Pedal!”
We were driving sideways towards the puddle and I couldn’t stop, so I simply decided to abandon ship. I let go of the handle bars completely and leapt off of the bike onto the sidewalk. Sarah, who was not privy to my exit strategy, instantly went down with the bike. The front wheel lay in the puddle, while she lay on the Sidewalk with one leg pinned by the bike.
Sarah: “What was that?”
Me: “Oh my God. Are you okay? We were going to crash.”
We both started laughing so hard I figured she was alright.
Sarah: “I can’t stop it!”
Me: “I know right. Bikes are hard.”
Sarah: “Stop! Stop! I can’t stop it!”
Me: “I couldn’t! I didn’t know how to stop it so I just jumped off.”
By now I am doubled over on the sidewalk, Sarah is still pinned by the bike and we are both in tears.
Sarah: “You’ve got to help me! Help me! I can’t stop it!”
This makes me laugh even harder, thinking about what we must have looked like, and I’m finding it hard to breathe.
Sarah: “No I mean NOW! I CAN’T STOP IT!”
This is when I notice that the front tire puddle is now spreading on the sidewalk. For a second I am confused, then I realize this puddle is not from the mud at all. This puddle is from Sarah who is no longer hysterically laughing.
Sarah: “Oh my God! Get this bike off of me! I couldn’t stop it.”
Sarah, had been laughing so hard so peed her pants… and the bike… and the sidewalk.
Sarah: “Get it off me. With the bike between my legs I couldn’t hold it in.”
Now I’m REALLY losing it as I quickly free her from the bike.
Sarah: (pulling her shirt down trying to conceal the giant dark pee spot on her jeans- pee literally dripping from her pant leg onto her flip flop) “It isn’t funny!”
Me: It is soooo funny.
At this point, students are returning from class, while others are heading out to theirs. As they start to file past us, their conversations stop, and jaws begin to drop. Sarah, with who is now pulling the front- and back- of her shirt down to her knees runs inside yelling, “It’s not what it looks like!” The fact that while she runs inside, her foot is making that horrible wet-flip-flop-squeeky-noise does not help the situation.
I have a horrible case of the giggles, as I steer the bike around Sarah’s puddle, back to the bike rack. I guide the front wheel into its place, and as I absentmindedly lift the back seat to align the bike, I find my hand now coated in Sarah’s pee.
Me: “Ah man.” Sarah was right. This isn’t funny!