With the first breach of 60-degree weather, I succumbed to the pang that had been growing inside throughout this oppressive winter and hopped on my bike. I clicked my helmet strap and entered the roadway.
But with each car zooming past seemingly inches from my elbow, I became uneasier.
I used to be fearless. I was a stunt rider on my first bike, on solid rubber tires that sent shockwaves with each pavement crack up my spine to my skull. It served me well until Mom backed over it in the driveway, right where I’d laid it down earlier that day. Bike No. 2, a Schwinn Typhoon, had a Cadillac ride on balloon tires, high-rise handlebars and a banana seat. Kids, Dad was cool.
But bike No. 3, a Collegiate with a gearshift and — brace yourselves — hand brakes, was made for speed, so I took it to the biggest hill in town.
An Apollo launch countdown ticking in my head, I revved my invisible throttle until the road ahead was free of cars. Then I cut loose.
In seconds, my chin just above the handlebars, I approached Mach 1, tears from wind-whipped eyes streaking to my ears, my 1970s hair trailing wildly. If I’d held my arms like wings and slightly tipped my palms, I would have lifted off.
But unbeknownst to its enraptured rider, the bike was paralleling a straight-up curb and creeping closer. By the time I looked down, it was too late; the tire was in that lose-lose zone where any tweak of the handlebars would press rubber against a wall of curb.
Had there been an observer, at that moment he would have seen a blur of limbs, gravel, hair and chrome as my Schwinn and I pitched to the right and skipped like dice on a craps table.
My scrapes were evenly spread and unremarkable except for one: the axle bolt had come down on my calf like a drill press, leaving a perfect round hole, like a bullet entry wound.
My leg was scarred but not my confidence, as I continued to ride for the next 40 years oblivious to the dangers. When helmets became standard, I obliged but thought little of it.
Since the tragic deaths of Rebecca Allen, Erica Forney and Urangua “Sisi” Mijiddorj, and the near-catastrophic accidents involving my former colleague Allan Baclasky and my wife’s current colleague Anthony Simon Turner, I no longer feel safe on two wheels.
We do our best with our transportation system. The pedestrians stay on walkways, and the cars stay on roadways. When we move at higher speeds, we shield ourselves with steel, with one exception: when we go on two wheels. Then, even with our helmets, these flesh and bone bodies are so vulnerable.
Around a bike or motorcycle, all drivers should become hypersensitive to the destructive power they command.
On a positive note, Sisi’s family has created a nonprofit organization in her name that will help accomplished but low-income young people in Mongolia get college educations.
Come to their fundraiser concert event, “The Colors of Mongolia,” at 4:30 p.m. April 25 at CSU’s Lory Student Center. All proceeds go toward scholarships. For tickets: www.tinyURL.com/SisiFund. E-mail me (see below) for details.