A story about bicycling and hills and fear and oh man, messenger bags can suck it

I made my first commute by bicycle today! My first commute! In the City! From Haight Ashbury to Petrol Hill [1] to downtown and back home to the Haight. Hills and rain and cars maneuvering through narrow lanes and construction zones!

I'd been skeptical to ride my bike, my Bianchi road/touring bike, because I'd never been very comfortable on it. My Trek bike in Vegas (which now sits in our apartment with Noah's extra bike until we get around to selling them) was larger and heavier with bigger tires (i.e., more stable), so switching over to a road bike was a huge thing. Factor in that the Bianchi didn't exactly fit me well– the neck was too long, the brake levers required far more hand strength than was reasonable, the seat was hard to get onto and off– along with the notorious reputation San Francisco has for crazy cyclists and even crazier drivers, and it was a perfect recipe for a bike I was madly in love with but was deathly afraid of riding anywhere.

Noah told me, over and over, just return the damn thing. Exchange it for a different bike. But it was an older model and I loved the look of the frame, loved the lugs, loved the stamped (stamped!) forks. None of the other vintage Bianchi models I'd researched had stamped forks, and I was desperate to keep this unexpected treasure, so I convinced myself that I'd adapt to the awkward fit and my hands would get stronger. Instead, I just made excuse after excuse as to why I couldn't bike to my destination. I obsessed over the city bike map that showed all the elevations and color-coded streets based on how steep the inclines were, and I felt trapped. Everywhere, there were hills. I couldn't go down hills because it hurt my hands too much to work the brakes. I couldn't go up hills because my legs were pansies and unadapted to the work. The latter was particularly self-perpetuating; I couldn't ride uphill because I wasn't strong enough, and I would never become strong enough because I kept avoiding it.

All the while, my Trek remained untouched. Because I felt that riding another bicycle was not conducive to forcing myself to get comfortable on the Bianchi. If I rode the Trek, I would never get used to riding the Bianchi, but I hated riding the Bianchi, so instead I just took the bus everywhere. My logic is infallible.

But then, finally, earlier this month I rode down to Refried, the shop where I'd bought the Bianchi, and asked if they could swap out the stem and brake levers, and without even hesitating, they said yes. And did! At no cost! And I almost cried with relief when I picked it up, because it just felt that much better. I could reach the handlebars without having to shift my center forward. The brake levers were easier to depress (though they're still a bit more resistive than I'd prefer). The seat was tilted down a little to make standing and pushing off a hundred times better.

We celebrated by riding to Richmond for pizza. After which I reverted straight back to fearing hills and memorizing bus lines.

Today, though, I did it. I accepted the possibility that I might get hit by a car and just biked to my destinations around the City today, alone. The end result is that I know so many parts of the City, now, to where I'm capable of biking, and the knowledge is exhilarating. The City is finally, finally feeling accessible to me, even if that freedom is only being granted in bits and pieces as I remain fully aware that my ability to conquer hills, though not nearly as bad as I'd been telling myself, is still pretty limited.

It's a good feeling, to throw caution to the wind and take a chance in the midst of possible (and plentiful) failure– and to end up doing better than hoped. If nothing else, living in San Francisco will teach me to be more bold with my decisions and risks, and I will learn to tackle (and hopefully trump) its hills, one degree of inclination at a time.

[1] I could have sworn I'd written about this before, but in any case, I used to date a guy who would tell me about his life in San Francisco and how he lived in this great house in Petrol Hill and how amazing it was. It was an embarrassingly long time before I realized he'd been telling me about life in Portrero [2] Hill, but I'd already developed an inclination to call the area by the former. The best thing about this story is that the one time I got to meet and chat with Derek Powazek, I asked him if he ever spent time in Petrol Hill. Beautimous.

[2] Is it PORtrero or POtrero? I always thought it was Potrero Hill, but the street is actually spelled "Portrero" [3], so now I'm conflicted. "Petrol Hill" is so much simpler.

[3] No it's not. I can't read sideways. Curses, Google Maps, you almost had me!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s