As a cyclist on city streets, I tend to be very alert to what's going on around me. I'm mindful that my chirpy little bicycle bell isn't going to be heard by most motorists. And that's probably the reason why I've gotten through the summer sorely tempted to revive an old cycling technique, but without the opportunity – or the nerve – to try it.
The maneuver goes back to my elementary school days in the San Fernando Valley of California. After watching Roy Rogers and Gene Autry at the Saturday morning matinees, we kids turned into cowboys on our bicycles during the rest of the weekend. (Those of us who happened to be girls were cowboys, too.)
It was the best possible time and place to be cowboy fans since a number of our parents, including my dad, worked for the movie studios, either in nearby Hollywood or out in the foothills where they shot all the Wild West scenes. And if I boast that Autry was uncle to my best girlfriend – he was still the popular singing cowboy and not yet the baseball mogul – it's modified by the fact that I never got to meet him.
In that time of fewer cars, we generally had the streets above Ventura Boulevard to ourselves during the afternoons. Our exploits paralleled the movie serials, and we started out with a briefing on where the bad guys were this week. Then we mounted our metal steeds and pursued the desperadoes, leaving a contrail of acrid cap-gun smoke behind us.
Somehow – even with cap guns clasped to the handlebars – we were still able to manage the trickiest part: mounting the curbs.
Getting down the curbs was no problem – you just bounced, carefully avoiding the storm drains. Getting up was the test. It wasn't merely practical; it was a necessity for keeping up with the bad guys. Being imaginary, they always had the lead on us.
Recently, heading home down a broad Boston street, with not a car in sight, I could cycle at a leisurely pace, taking time to notice the attractive trees across the street. What got me, however, was the sunset – right in my eyes. I was blinded in the traffic lane, but a quick glance told me there was a shady sidewalk on the other side, under those leaves waving in the breeze.
After the briefest left-turn signal – just in case – I whipped across the street at full speed.
The next thing I saw was the curb. There are a fair number of driveways along that stretch, and that's what I thought I was aiming for when I saw an open space between two parked cars. Only it wasn't a driveway ... and suddenly there wasn't time or space to stop or avoid the curb. Fortunately, it wasn't as high as those of the good old days.
The trick back then had been to jerk your weight back from the bike seat and yank up on the handlebars at the last possible moment. Thinking impels needed action – and suddenly I was up and over. After a slight thud, I was still moving forward, and the fruit in my basket was still in the bag.
But now, having finally done it again, I have to confess: I probably would have chickened out had I planned it.