The first time I cycled with my wife was in June, 1987. I’d been in Japan for five months and my mom had just shipped over my pink Tommasini. It was heaven, pedaling through Tochigi-ken, climbing the mountains around and behind Nikko, rolling through the rice paddies on the coastal plain towards the sea.
“Hey, honey,” I said one day, “let’s go for a bike ride!”
“Okay!” She loved to ride her bicycle and had commuted on it throughout high school. It was a cute little red mama-chari with fenders, a rack, a basket, a kickstand, and a wide padded seat.
“Let’s do an easy pedal,” I suggested. “Then if you decide you like it we can do more.” Everyone knows that “do more” is biker codespeak for “buy a really expensive race machine that you can hunch over on, strain your back and neck on, and ram a sharp hard saddle up your ass while you suffer for a few hours.”
She didn’t know that. “Okay!” she said, and even today I remember the happy, pretty smile.
I picked a course out to the prefectural driving license center that was almost totally flat except for a couple of hilly sections, and it was so short you wouldn’t have even needed legs. I was kind of bummed because I knew I wouldn’t get a workout doing a measly 25 miles, but it was worth it to spend time with my sweetie. Plus, once we got going I could kind of pick up the pace a tad so I’d at least break a sweat.
We got most of the way there before she began to really complain. When we got home four hours later she was livid and her parts were raw.
The next time we cycled together was in 2013. It had taken her a while to get over the earlier ride, I guess. We rode down the Strand from Rat Beach to Manhattan Beach on the Fourth of July. It was just us and twelve million other people.
Then in Germany this summer with my youngest son, straddling bicycles as we crossed the country, this occurred to me: Why had I failed so signally to share this thing that has given me such joy with those I love the most? Why has cycling always been a kind of hex that shoos away everyone in my family? Why haven’t I ever been able to widen the circle?
The answer is simple, and as I’ve looked at my friends, I’ve realized I’m not alone. I’ve always presented cycling as something that only an insane person would want to do. Arduous. Time consuming. Expensive. Combative. Dangerous. Populated by other, equally insane people clad in weird and ugly clothing that shows your tummy and haunches in the most unflattering of ways.
Who the hell WOULD want to do it?
So I came back from Germany and set about a stealth plan to get Mrs. WM back on a bicycle. The key was to never mention cycling. Instead I offered to take her out to breakfast.
“Oh, that would be great!” She loves chatting and breakfast. “When?”
“How’s next Sunday?”
“Perfect! Where are we going?”
“Let’s go over to Java Man in Hermosa. You’ll love it. We can ride our bikes there.”
She looked suspicious. “I don’t have a bike.”
“You can use Cassady’s.”
“I can’t pedal back home up the hill.”
“We’ll drive down to Rat Beach and pedal from there.”
“I’m not going to wear those stupid bicycle clothes with the big maxi pad seat.”
“Me, either. Shorts and a t-shirt.”
She brightened. “Okay.”
At Java Man, Manslaughter, Hair, and Emily were waiting for us, dressed like normal people. We chatted and ate and laughed for over an hour, and no one mentioned bicycles or cycling or, dog forbid, bicycle racing. It was one of the best Sundays of my life.
“That was fun!” she said as we pedaled home on the bike path. “Can we do it again?”
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