For months, my buddy has been ridiculing me for not riding a bike.
“You live in Portland, you should have a freakin’ bike” is the sort of thing he says. Also; “we could be there already if we were riding bikes.”
Yeah, probably. Probably, friend.
This happens invariably, and randomly. One Sunday he had to take his bike into the store to get some work done, so I went with him and hung out while his three year old son pointed at everything in the store and asked “what’s that?” or “what’s that do?” When my buddy noticed I had an answer for most things, he was very confused.
“You’re especially anti-bike, so how do you know all these bike things?”
“I used to ride a lot, and it’s cheaper to buy the tool and do the repair than to pay someone else to do it.”
“And you still don’t ride a bike now? You live in Portland!”
When he headed out of town for the holidays, he handed me the key to his bike lock and said something along the lines of “go for a ride and fall in love with riding a bike again, and buy a bike while I’m gone.” Maybe some of that was more implied than stated.
So on Saturday I started thinking about how I’ve nearly exhausted the local supply of coffee shops, and I need to expand my coffee shop knowledge. Also; when done right, every day in Portland is an adventure. I decided to bike to a coffee shop on the East Side. My friend recommended Sound Grounds.
Step One: Acquiring the Bike
I walked from my apartment to his to pick up the bike. It was a little misty out, and I wasn’t sure what direction the clouds were gonna turn. There was a 90% chance of rain for the next couple hours, but it mostly seems to have let up at this point. Maybe I’ll go someplace closer, rather than farther, I thought to myself. After a bit of confusion, I find the bike and helmet, take a helmet-selfie and mount up.
Step Two: Almost Falling on Burnside
With Google Maps directions queued up and in my ears, I start my ride, a bit confused. I am a bit scared to fall, or to die or to get mowed over by a car. Then I end up in the wrong lane and momentarily forget all the hand signals and over-think it – is left-hand up stop or turning right? Why can’t I just use my right hand to indicate right? How am I going to get to the next lane? Is that possible? I need to turn left but I’m in the right hand lane. The light turns green and I get going – the bike is a bit higher than what I am used to, and as I start moving I also look over my left shoulder to see if it is possible to get over, then I start wobbling and for a couple seconds I am sure I am going to fall in the middle of Burnside. I manage to save myself and I pull to the side to catch my wits. I see the occupants of the cars that were behind me look out their windows as they pass to see if I am okay. I wave.
Step Three: Walking a Block or Two
The neighborhoods near my apartment are riddled with one way streets. It is slippery out and I am riding a bike that is higher than I am used to for the first time since I was 18. For those of you keeping track, that is my sophomore year of college. Early in my sophomore year of college. I get to the street I need to be on, and start riding again.
Step Four: Downhill, Downtown.
There are giant parts of downtown Portland that are just completely downhill. I do not know if this is a thing I completely realized before. I held lightly on the rear brakes, as water filled my eyes and I was uncertain of the status of my nose. Buildings, people and cars were moving past at speeds I have not previously experienced in Portland. Not with that little protection.
Step Five: Crossing the Hawthorne
This was probably the most enjoyable part of the ride. Well-organized, directed bike lanes made me feel very safe and secure and unconcerned. For as much as it sloped up, it sloped back down, and vice versa.
Step Six: Lost
I got lost because I did not want to turn left across Hawthorne, so I ended up looping around Ladd’s Addition in very confusing way and being lost. Then I got myself unlost, no thanks to Google Maps, and back on my way.
Step Seven: UPHILL
So there’s this part of Salmon Street that just goes uphill. And it gradually becomes steeper and steeper. My quads burnt with a fury as I just tried to push on, more and more. More and more. Gears are still confusing to me, because it has been awhile and this is my first time riding on this bike. As I near the top, I stop and walk. At the end of that block is a sign encouraging me to not give up because I am almost at the top of the hill. A sign that would have been more useful a block before.
Step Eight: Drinking Coffee
At the top of the hill, I rolled downhill a bit, turned and saw my coffee shop destination! After locking up the bike, I walked in and got a cup of coffee.
All-in-all, the experience was not awful, but at this point, I do not know that a bike is a goal possession for me. I do, however, know more aboyt what I am looking for in a bike – something a bit lower, with slightly wider tires and brakes that are a bit more sensitive.