Yes, you do forget how to ride a bike.

Every time I someone say “Oh, it’s just like riding a bike. You never forget how to do it.” I have to resist the urge to tell the following story, mostly because it makes me sound like a complete idiot.

But first, a little background:

In my college days, I rowed on Kansas State University Women’s Crew. I only rowed for 3 seasons (2 Fall, 1 Spring) because of some knee issues. It turns out that there’s a reason short gals  don’t succeed at rowing.  Being all of 5 foot 5 inches (on a good day), I had to figure out some way to create the power that my taller counterparts generated. I did this by lengthening my stroke as much as I could, and ended up doing what is called over-compressing the knee at the catch. The catch is the part of a rower’s stroke where they are crouched up and have just dropped the oars in the water, preparing to drive backward in the slide to propel the racing shell (boat) forward.

An Aussie rower at the catch.

I bent my knees over the 90° angle on every stroke, thousands of times a day for a year and a half, causing something called synovial plica syndrome. This syndrome occurs when repeated over-compression causes the tissue lining of the knee to get stretched and pinched in the knee joint. It’s quite painful. My coaches didn’t seem to care that I was injured – “Nothing is broken and I don’t see blood” – so instead of getting the team sports docs to look at me, they just had me do a lot of pool running and swimming whenever my knee started to act up. How could they tell my knee was acting up? I was crying while rowing. I have ridiculously high tolerance for pain.

I'm in the bow seat (farthest to the right).

So in the spring break of my first year of college, the entire team headed to Austin, Texas for a week and a half of spring training. We had two- and three-a-day practices on Lake Austin, with every practice being a try-out for the regatta (race) at the end of the week. Since I love racing, I was pushing myself hard. My knee did not seem to want to agree with me. As there was no pool available, the coaches had me do a lot of cycling, ironically along Lance Armstrong Bikeway.

Prior to this spring training adventure, I had not ridden a bike in about a decade. And I foolishly believed the cliché – “Oh, it’s just like riding a bike. You never forget how to do it.” Boy, oh boy, was I wrong.

The balance and forward motion of riding a bike is something I didn’t forget, but the entire process of getting on and getting off the bike was entirely foreign to me.  So I stood there like the biggest idiot in the world, doing physics in my head and trying to figure out a way to get on the bike and get it going. I completely forgot about the existence of the “stand on the left side of the bike, step on left pedal, use forward motion to swing right leg over and bike off” method, and had to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

Dramatic re-enactment of my attempt to ride a bicycle.

I fell off twice trying to get going – I couldn’t manage to get the forward motion going and get on the bike at the same time. As for the dismount? I did the version that every 6 year old kid does – just kind of fall over into a grassy area. Keep in mind, the mounting and dismounting were done in front the coaches, whom weren’t pleased with me anyway, and fellow rowers. I’m pretty sure I have never been more embarrassed. The next day I had to ride a bike, I quietly pulled aside one of my fellow injured, cross-training rowers and had her remind me how to get on and off a bike. I felt like such an idiot. I still associate cycling with being clumsy and clueless.

That was 2002 and I haven’t ridden a bike since then. Now, 9 years later, my foot is injured and running will likely be forbidden for the next few months. So, I’m thinking about taking up cycling again. I think a duathalon might be in my future, once my foot is healed. A triathalon might not ever happen for me, since my biggest fear is drowning and just watching the swimming portion of triathalons – with the elbowing and kicking and people literally swimming on top of each other – sounds like hell for me. So I’ll master the marathon and duathalon first, then I’ll consider swimming.

Again, it will have been around a decade between cycling adventures. I’ll be sure to have a friend with a camera this time, so we can all laugh at my ridiculous lack of coordination on a bicycle.

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