New bike, new rules, safe cyclist

Published 12:02 pm Wednesday, July 22, 2015

It all started when I took my bike in for routine maintenance. I knew my aged two-wheeler needed help but I had no idea how much. By the time the expert finished checking boxes, the diagnostic report was three pages long.  He strongly suggested replacing the cables, the tires, the grip pads; pretty much everything but the frame.  It reminded me of a liquidation sale. Everything must go!

What the technician was too polite to say was this: Your bike is a dinosaur.My dearly beloved green Giant (the actual name of the manufacturer) was half of a set of mountain bikes that my husband and I purchased decades ago. I had always dreamed of weekend rides “off road”. Just the two of us. What Jimmy hadn’t realized at the time was that my dream was his nightmare. I was disappointed. It was like having my heart broken right before the senior prom.

But then I learned something about myself. I liked cycling better when it offered more than exercise and entertainment.  Returning books to the library, picking up a few items from the grocery store, or even dropping off a letter at the post office instilled a heady sense of accomplishment. An additional perk involved witnessing my gas bill shrink as my muscles got bigger.

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One day it occurred to me that I could ride my bike to work. It meant hitting the road at 6 am wearing a glow in the dark vest with flashers and pedaling for an hour (mostly uphill) to greet my students at the classroom door on time, but I was willing.

By the time I pulled up to the bike rack in front of the school, I was so pumped full of endorphins, I was vibrating. As if my red face and helmet hair didn’t speak for themselves, I told everyone I passed in the hallways:   “I rode my bike today!”  It occurred to me one day that all my “back patting” offered more threat of injury than any bike ride I had ever undertaken.

In a small school, word travels fast. There was a buzz in the hallway: Did you see Mrs. Crouch on her bicycle? Some students were impressed. Some parents were amazed at the foolishness of my actions.  Looking back, it seems crazy to me, too. The only roadway between my house and the school is a four lane highway with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour.  It has a ten foot wide shoulder.  I’m guessing that the shoulder is what made me feel safe.

I was the little engine that could during those commutes, groaning “I think I can” at the bottom of every hill. In all those trips, there is one that I will never forget.  I was halfway to the top, standing on my bike pedals when I felt the presence of another human beside me. I mean that literally. I felt an actual hand on the small of my back. A fellow cyclist was giving me a push.

Had he verbalized his offer beforehand (get it? beforehand?) I would have declined, but I sure didn’t resist it in the moment. When we finally reached the top, I took a look at my bike angel- a wiry guy wearing a big smile and spandex.  He looked like Lance Armstrong.

Last week, after reviewing my three page report on my old bike, I decided to buy a new one. My husband,  still thanking God that he is not being pressured to join me for cycling, couldn’t get our credit card out fast enough.

In retrospect, that stranger’s hand on my back may have been trying to tell me something. I can see the warning sign clearly now. No more trying to hang with the big boys. Riding a bike alongside fast moving cars is like racing with a tricycle in the Tour de France.  It has taken me years and a new set of wheels to discover this truth. From now on, I will restrict my pedaling to streets that have bike lanes or sidewalks.  It’s fun to test one’s limits. It’s smarter to stay safe. Happy cycling!

Donia Caspersen Crouch was raised in Southeast Texas and lives in Austin. Want more?  Donia’s  Stories of Hope and Humor can be ordered at