Lessons Learned From the Bike: Time, Practice and Potholes

I was finishing a ride on the Highline Canal Trail. I was riding on the sidewalk on the highway overpass, because there is no room to ride safely in the street. I saw a pedestrian coming toward me, and, rather than stopping, I hugged the right side of the sidewalk, allowing the pedestrian to keep to her right.

What I didn’t see was the manhole cover with a huge pothole. I hit it going full speed (granted, my full speed is only about 13 mph). It jolted every bolt and joint on both my body and my bike. It unseated me and my feet flew off the pedals (I don’t clip in). Within seconds, my feet found their placing, I regained my seat, and Blue2 and I rode merrily on.

I haven’t been riding long, but I realized that a couple of years ago, this would have been a very painful accident. I would not just have been unseated, I would have crashed miserably, either going over the handlebars or not being able to regain balance.

Life is like that. I have learned that sometimes you can’t assume that what looks like a leaf is actually a leaf. Sometimes it’s a rock. Sometimes the puddle is deeper than you think. And you never see beforehand the nail that lodges in your tire.

But with enough time, with enough practice, huge potholes don’t have to end in a crash. Nothing but time and practice will give you the skill and balance you need to keep seated and keep moving on.

Put in the time. Don’t let the potholes make you crash. No matter what it is in your life. Writing. Music. Family. Friends. God. Put in the time. Keep moving on.

Lessons Learned from the Bike, Part Two

falling-off-bike-calvin-harris-pushupsI read a motivational quote about cycling not long ago that said “Even the professionals fall.” I want to say here and now, I have never fallen off my bike. I felt the rear end shimmy a little one time when I went over a patch of ice. And there have been a couple of times when I’m getting on that I’ll almost lose my balance (I never said I was well-balanced or graceful). But I’ve never actually fallen.

In other words, the professionals fall a lot more than I do. The reason, of course, is because they take risks that I don’t. They go fast, they lean into the curves and barely slow down around corners. They weave in and around other objects, whether those objects are squirrels, pedestrians or other cyclists. Me? I slow down. I’ll even follow a pedestrian for just a few seconds until I’m sure they’ve heard I’m coming up on them. It’s why if I’m trying to build up some speed (and for me that’s still pretty slow), I’ll hit the roads. That way I can avoid the dog-walkers, wagon-pulling fathers and unfriendly joggers.

But back to falling down. Other risks that other cyclists may take is riding on snow or ice. I won’t do it. They do. So while they may slide and fight for tire purchase on sanded or salted paths, I haven’t done that. Yet. (A blog I follow is All Seasons Cyclist. My goal is to eventually ride in the weather he does.)

People don’t take risks because they are afraid of failing, of falling in the big areas of life. And yet to not try at all is to fail, perhaps to fail in the biggest way possible. The lesson I am learning from not falling is one that we have heard often, and yet it bears repeating to ourselves every day. If you don’t take risks, if you don’t occasionally fall, you will never find greatness.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was intended to stand straight, but if the architect would have succeeded, would the building be as famous as it is today? When a reporter interviewed Thomas Edison, he asked Edison if he felt like a failure and if he thought he should just give up by now. “Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up?” Edison replied. “I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” Shortly after that, and over 10,000 attempts, Edison invented the light bulb.

Learning is a painful process. As Bruce Cockburn said in “Shipwrecked at the Stable Door,” “Ask anyone who can remember, it’s horrible to be born.” To fail is to take another step on the path to success. It eliminates one way that something doesn’t work. To fall on the bike is simply to learn how to balance better, how to read the road, how to get better at everything we do.

This doesn’t mean we take foolish risks. As Aristotle taught, virtue is found in the middle of two extremes. We find balance between rashness and cowardice. For me, this means while riding that maybe I strive to go a little faster — and still wear my helmet. In life, this means that I continue to strive in my writing. I write out of the box, I take risks — even if my writing won’t always be appreciated, understood or even liked.

We take risks We fail. We fall. We get back up. We learn.

And we ride.