- Trading Post
Sunday, December 13, 2015
On Striving for Bike-lingual Fluency
For those of us who learned to ride a bicycle rather late in life there sometimes lurks a sense of anxiety about "passing" as a real cyclist. We might cycle to work for years, reach excellent levels of fitness, hang with the fast group on club rides, successfully finish brevet series, and so on. But no matter how much we love bicycling and how comfortable we get on two wheels, deep down there is an awareness that we will never attain the fluency and mannerisms of the "natives" - that is, of those who learned to cycle as very young children. It's a bit like speaking a language fluently, but with an accent. Even if it's only a trace of an accent - a twang, really - it is nevertheless discernible, marking us as latecomers and at times, we fear, as outsiders.
My own achilles heel of self-consciousness in this respect is the bicycle mount. While I have managed to pick up most of the basic, and even not so basic, cycling skills by now, and am told again and again I have "good form," this most basic skill of all continues to elude me.
In order to get a bicycle moving from a stop, I must lean it dramatically to the side, so that my bum can reach the saddle whilst a toe still touches the ground, whereupon I push off with my other foot and start pedaling. What I can't do is the "normal" method most other cyclists seem to use, which is to push off out of the saddle and hoist yourself upon it only after the bicycle gets going.
For years, I have tried to teach myself this technique. And others have tried to teach me, employing various methods and tricks. None of it has worked, and to this day I remain a butt-in-the saddle mounter - betrayed by this tell tale "accent" despite my overall fluency!
As far as my everyday experience goes, I suppose this isn't really a handicap. I do opt for bicycles with lower bottom brackets, so that my saddle height can be adjusted optimally (allowing me to both mount/dismount comfortably and pedal with full leg extension). But aside from that, I do not really suffer tangibly from this gap in my cycling skills.
And yet, suffer I do. Because the "proper" mount is a stunning sight to behold. Graceful and fluid, if only for a moment it transforms the rider's body - no matter the shape and size - into a glorious, elongated, foward-striving force of muscular elegance. It is an everyday ballet that I cannot partake in, a language whose exotic intonation I cannot mimic, because - for all my practice of it - I have yet to fully internalise it. Perhaps some day I will. Until then, I accept my bike-lingual limitations and watch with admiration the glorious native speakers. How lucky you are, and how beautiful!