Today I bought a new bike. The used one I’ve been riding ever since I moved to the Bay Area was so heavy that I could hardly lift it up the five steep stairs required to mount the train, which I take to commute to work. I got tired of watching other commuters lift their bikes with one hand while sipping their lattes. And I got tired of waiting for my bike to be stolen.
Bikes are my path to free. I ride to go, to get places, and to feel the wind. I’ve ridden for as long as I can remember, and I remember vividly that moment that my father first let go and sent me flying down the hill, the weight of him behind me suddenly gone, the exhilarating fear of being on my own a sudden and ample identity. When my family lived in Israel when I was in middle school, I learned to ride with no hands, and would cruise the hills of Jerusalem, arms dangling, breathing the sweet air, and the speed. Once, while riding home, my shoelace got stuck in the chain, and the cute boy who lived down the block and was always outside dribbling a soccer ball cut it free with his pocket knife; I wore the shoelace as a bracelet for months.
My bikes have a history of being stolen just before I need to figure out how to get rid of them. Mac, named for MacGyver, the pink and white bike I rode in Jerusalem, ended up on the back of an unmarked truck piled with goods. I saw the truck taking off down the block on my way home one day, and chased it for a while. Then I watched it until the bike faded into a sky indistinguishable from the hills. Nora, my orange folding bike which I rode while living in Germany, was stolen when my friend borrowed it. She called the police, frantic, to report: “mein Fahrrad war stolen!.” Their response was to correct her grammar – “mein Fahrrad ist gestollen worden,” and wish her luck. When I was in college, my bike was stolen by the campus police, to teach me a lesson. I was always locking it up in the wrong places. I got a lecture, and a number tattooed onto the belly of the bike. There are thefts in these thefts, and also gifts, propelling me on to the next adventure.
Mornings, as I pedal into the day, my daughters’ cries for hugs and maks (our onomatopoeia for kisses) are weights upon my back. As I stand to pedal hard into the wind, the sunshine bright upon my face, I realize that I no longer soar free, alone. They have stolen that bike, the light bike I can lift on my shoulders, and take far away. They have gifted me with a weightier, more cautious vehicle, an added weight that I no wonder struggle to lift upon the train. Now, they run behind me. Soon they’ll let go, and mount their own bikes, and I, panting behind them, then stranded, weightless, will learn to set them free.