Last week I finally took my bicycle for a ride and, as I do every year, I remembered that first rides of the biking season are like no other rides the rest of the year.
I got a thrill out of just getting on my touring bike. With my toes, I twirled the pedal and slipped my left shoe into the toe clip and then, in one continuous motion, slowly, easily, I leaned forward over the handlebars and straightened my left leg ... and I was rolling, gliding ... The trick to a good mount is to make the transition from standing to riding casual and effortless.
I was weightless. A curve to the right, a quick turn to the left, a tight circle, a spurt of speed and then a wide circle: In the parking lot, I played. Reacquainting myself with my eight-year-old bike, I squirted this way and banked that way, feeling almost as mobile as a barn swallow swooping low over a field.
Out of the parking lot and onto the street, there was wind in my face and I felt light and nimble and fast. I love first rides.
I cruised through the neighborhood, medium speed, no strain, enjoying movement with hardly any effort. The neighborhood glided past me; people carrying in groceries, talking with their neighbors, chasing their kids in the grass, walking their dogs -- scene after scene passed by me, like a movie.
There was the smell of freshly cut grass, and a barbecue, and I heard a radio and voices coming through a kitchen window. The sights and smells and sounds and riding my bike -- actually doing something familiar and physical -- awaken memories of summers past, memories that blend all of my summers into one continuous stream.
Out of my neighborhood and onto a country road, it was time to huff and haul my beef. The key to riding is rhythm -- rhythmic pedaling, breathing and body energy.
Like the rhythms, the skills came back to me: using my ankles and calf muscles to get more leverage on the pedals, spinning the cranks at a steady, quick rate to keep away the strain, holding a perfectly straight line between turns -- I didn't intentionally call on these skills; I just found myself using them again.
This year's first ride was a five-mile loop through a few quiet neighborhoods and some open countryside. It was a relatively short ride, but long enough to show me that I wasn't in shape.
The circuit closes with a very long, straight grade, and to make it over the crest I had to play the old game of "50 feet more" (to that tuft of grass, then 50 feet more, to that rock, then 50 feet more ... ). I could have stopped to rest, but the ache in my gut felt good and I was enjoying my momentum. I wasn't just riding to the hill's crest: I was in pursuit of it and, like an industrial punch's flywheel, I was strong and steady and relentless.
As I coasted into my neighborhood, darkness crept onto the streets with me. Coming home at nightfall reminded me of all the sweaty adventures on hot summer evenings I enjoyed as a boy. In fact, first rides of the season are full of reminders of how much I've enjoyed it for so many years.
It's good that there can be only one first ride every year; it gives it a distinctive taste, like a Christmas cake. And every year, the flavor is more and more rich.
Michael Hetu lives and rides his bike in Laurel.