Riding a bike isn’t like… riding a bike
Here’s a confession: I’m terrified of both riding a bicycle and driving a car. Just the thought of doing either sends me into an almost unstoppable panic attack, trying to do either causes my throat to close up and I’m gasping for air. This renders me completely reliant on public transportation or the kindness of others with an available shotgun seat.
It’s difficult for me to explain why this is: I used to drive often back in Israel (although admittedly I’d never be trusted to park the car) and my parents taught me to ride a bike at the age of ten, though I can’t recall riding one since (the streets of Tel Aviv and Herzliya are not as friendly to bicycle riders as Hamburg or Amsterdam might be.
When I get on a bike, my heart races and my blood pressure shoots through the roof. It takes every last bit of concentration to not fall off as I wobble the first few meters and try to gain enough speed to prevent myself from zigzagging across the pavement and into a pedestrian. Sometimes I stop to gather my thoughts at the side of the road and realize I’m sweating profusely.
I look at other people on bicycles around me, gliding through traffic, standing on the pedals, keeping perfect balance as they raise a hand off the handlebars and readjust their glasses, talk on the phone or pull back their hair. I try to mimic them, but my bike swerves into a row of parked cars the moment I release my right hand from the handlebars. I quickly go back to gripping them so tightly that I have redness and blistering by the end of the day.
The stares of those passing by when they see a grown woman having difficulties stabilizing a simple bicycle might be obvious only to me. Or perhaps, my head is the only place where they really exist. Maybe they’re not real people at all, but circus characters inside my head, like that episode of Star Trek Voyager with Michael McKean (Here’s the trailer, it’s pretty terrifying).
I’ve been the new owner of a hybrid city bike for the past few weeks (thank you, Matthias, for the giant push). I admit that being in a bicycle shop is almost as distressing to me as actually being on a bike, and walking home with a two-wheeled black behemoth is a bit like I assume being a new mother is like – happy and proud, but with no idea what to do with the damn thing.
I’ve taken the bike out to a few tours outside the city (thank you, Hendrik, for being a wonderful tour guide and for your very patient support) and have impressed myself with getting better with every push of the pedal. I’m confident enough in my continued improvement to consider renting a bike during my upcoming trip away, and – who knows – perhaps even get behind the wheel of a car.
When I think about it, I realize conquering fear is the best feeling in the world.