Few things make Elisabeth Easther happier than riding her bike
While cycling into the city earlier today, I was reminded just how much I love my bike. Whether I'm pedalling to one of my odd jobs, or cycling purely for pleasure, few things make me happier than riding along on a bike. Cycling in Auckland also means never having to moan about traffic jams, or the cost of petrol and parking. Although when I arrive at my various places of employment, I do try to dampen down my endorphin-fed enthusiasm, as it could come across a bit intense to someone who's been sitting at a desk all day.
For many of us, the bicycle is vividly bound with memories of childhood. I remember learning to ride as if it was yesterday. We had one of those ubiquitous Kiwi driveways with a narrow strip of grass down the middle and my first bike had a basket on the front, and training wheels to the sides. When I started to show some aptitude, Dad took one of the training wheels off — a plan that very quickly proved itself flawed but, when he took the other training wheel off, it was game on. To begin with, a parent or older sibling would run along behind the learner with their hand on the back of the saddle and, as speed was gathered, the hand would withdraw and the rider was in control, briefly, simultaneously ecstatic and terrified. When falling felt inevitable, the idea was to try to tumble on to the grass strip and not the concrete. At least that was the theory.
I also remember how that first bike only had a front brake and on that same driveway, aged about 5, I was tearing along at high speed, chubby little legs working like pistons. I suspect I'd been keen to do a skid and impress an older brother. Pulling hard on the brake, the front wheel locked and I careened over the handlebars and on to my head. Apparently I flew quite a distance. There were no helmets in those days and I made a dent in the grass strip. My doctor father diagnosed concussion and to this day, I can still taste the disappointment at not being taken to hospital, but dad said he could manage my care just as well at home. Being young, I think that was more painful than the actual injury, the sting of being denied a second opinion at Waikato Hospital.
Quickly moving on from the one-brake wonder, my next bike was a dark-blue 3-speed Cruiser — although secretly I always wanted a chopper, the sort with the gear changer on the top of the frame, ape hangers and a sparkly banana seat, but some unwritten rule said they were for boys. Heading to intermediate school, I graduated to a 10-speed racing bike, it was black-and-white and I was proud that it had a boys' frame. It was ace.
Back in the early 80s, youngsters thought nothing of riding long distances to get themselves from A to B and by this stage we lived about 10 kilometres from my school. As a rule, dad would drop me off with my bike on his way to work, and at 3pm I'd cycle home across Hamilton, the final leg along State Highway 1. No phone, no high viz, just me and my bike trying to avoid the slipstream from stock trucks.
Aged 14, a year away from obtaining my driver's licence, it was December and Mum wasn't getting us to the beach as fast as I'd have liked. School might've been over for the year but Mum still had things to do — so I said I would cycle the 120km to Whangamata. And she was cool with it. I think I packed a drink bottle, two bananas and a sandwich and presumably a few dollar bills, although I don't remember buying anything. Mum didn't even ask me to find a phone to call her to say I'd arrived safely. It was drizzling for much of the journey, and somewhere outside Morrinsville, one of those long, straight stretches, I passed a snail crossing the road. I remember thinking I'd never have seen that from a car, in fact I probably would have crushed it, and I became aware how much more nuance you get on a bike. Admittedly it was hard work, but once I'd been gone a few hours, there was no going back and besides, I had my pride to consider. When I arrived, my legs like jelly, I lay down and slept for 13 solid hours.
All these years later, I feel just as enthusiastic about riding my bike as I did when I was young. When I'm happy it makes me happier, when I'm sad, it cheers me up. When I'm struggling with something I'm writing or some frustrating element of life, the answer is usually found whilst in motion. What's more, I have the best ideas on my bike, like the one I had to write this story.