Sunday, December 26, 2010

Two-Wheeled Trauma

Lots of children woke up Christmas morning to find a bicycle under the tree. Or maybe a two-wheeler showed up under the Hannukah menorah a few weeks ago. Either way, my reaction to these childhood conveyances can best be summarized by the following headline: “Fell Off My Bike, and Vowed Never to Get Back On.”

The accompanying article ( reconfirmed my antipathy toward a sport, an exercise, that I have disdained since around the time I was 7. I never learned to ride a bicycle as a child, a deprivation of youth I attributed to my father (why blame myself when an adult authority figure is readily available and central to the story?).

Like any good father, my father was teaching me to ride without training wheels, a feat he had accomplished with my brother and sister. Behind our home in Brooklyn, we shared a T-shaped common driveway leading to the garages tucked into the back of each row house. The long portion of the paved driveway was at least the length of a football field and was commonly used for many of the games we played such as ringolevio, punchball and blind man’s bluff. It was a perfect place to learn to ride a bike.

My father dutifully ran alongside the bike holding it steady as I attempted to maintain balance. All was going well. I turned my head to tell him something, but he wasn’t there. I must have been at least 10 yards past him, cycling on my own. But I panicked. I crashed down to the hard pavement. I ran back home, crying to my mother, “Daddy let go.” I was inconsolable, determined never again to trust him to hold me steady, resolute in my opinion that my large tricycle was just as good as a two-wheeler. All my friends pedaled circles around me on their two-wheelers. I countered I could run just as fast as they could bike.

No amount of coaxing could change my mind. It stayed closed-minded for the next 33 years, until I was 40 and Ellie was 7. She had just learned to ride. Gilda threatened to go on biking vacations with Dan and Ellie without me. So I learned (subject of a future blog). On our first bike outing as a family, around the SUNY Purchase perimeter road, Ellie tumbled down a steep hill in front of me. Good thing she was wearing a helmet.

A few months later we were riding in Garden City while attending one of Dan’s soccer tournaments. As we came to Stewart Avenue, a major roadway, I suggested we ride on the sidewalk. Gilda said it would be safer in the street. Fearful of cars, I insisted on the sidewalk. Gilda gave in. As we approached a massive tree with a low hanging branch, Dan said he would try to reach up to touch it. I turned my head to tell him not to, in so doing steered my bike directly into the tree trunk. I crashed, breaking my fall with my right forearm. X-rays from a midnight trip to the emergency room revealed no broken bones, but the wrist took months to heal, less time than it took my ego to admit Gilda was right about where to ride.

The next summer as we were biking on vacation I fell as a car came too close to me on a hairpin turn (at least that was my view). I decided I preferred safety to biking with family and have rarely been aboard a bike since. A few years ago we donated my bike. We gave Gilda’s to our daughter-in-law Allison. Gilda keeps hinting she’d like us to buy recumbent bikes, the type that are low to the ground. I doubt we will. I have too much regard for my bones and insufficient confidence in my stability on two wheels.