As a child growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s in what was then the small town of Charlottesville, Virginia, I had a couple of different bikes over the years. But the one I remember the most was my first bike – a bright green Schwinn Stingray coaster bike with a sparkly green vinyl banana seat, V-shaped handle bars with green plastic grips, chrome fenders and black tires. Back then we could ride our bikes all day, and we would ride them everywhere. It was an idyllic time when our parents didn’t need to worry about us when we went outside to play. We just had to be home in time for dinner. Or when we went out to play after dinner, we had to be home when it got dark, or when the street lights came on – whichever came first.
Later, as a teenager, I graduated to what was one of the fanciest bikes available at that time – an Eddy Merckx ten-speed. That light blue bike with drop handlebars gave me a greater level of independence because it made the world seem smaller and more accessible, thus enabling me to venture out of my neighborhood, going farther and faster than I had ever done before. I also used my ten-speed bike to deliver newspapers on my paper route after school during the week, and very early in the morning on the weekends. But when I got old enough I traded in my paper route for a part-time job, and left my bike behind when I got my driver’s license and access to a car.
Fast forward more than twenty years. (And it does go fast.) I’m living in the Washington, D.C. area, and some friends invited me to participate in a charity fundraising event called the Snow Valley MS 150K Bike Tour, to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. I didn’t even own a bike at that time, but I said okay anyway. So in preparation for the ride I bought one. The ride went well and I completed the entire distance. More importantly, I was able to raise a lot of money for a very worthy cause. I think I rode a few more times during the summer after the Snow Valley event, but as time went on I got busy and the bike was put to the side. It was about then that I got married, started a family, and life became even busier. The bike ended up in storage, forgotten about, and wasn’t ridden again for about a dozen years.
Then a few years ago, for no particular reason, I just started riding again. I can’t fully explain it, but something just clicked with me this time around. I initially started riding during my lunch hours at work. The warm weather of spring was returning, and in an attempt to offset the fact that my job with the Federal government involves working all day in a windowless, bunker-like office surrounded by eight-foot thick concrete walls which insulate me from the outside world, I started keeping a bicycle at the office and going out for rides on my lunch hours during the middle of the day. It snowballed from there. I started using some of my vacation time to go on longer rides, even taking entire days off and spending the entire workday riding. I started riding on the weekends, and some evenings during the week too. I just started pedaling, and haven’t stopped yet.
The D.C. metro area is a very bike-friendly place, with a number of separated and marked bike lanes as well as trails throughout the city and surrounding suburbs. The area also has an almost unending number of destinations to which to ride and enjoy. From the monuments and memorials downtown, to the vastly different neighborhoods throughout the city with their off-the-beaten-path attractions, to the trails and natural areas in nearby Virginia and Maryland, to the national, regional and municipal parks that can be found everywhere – the National Capital area provides enough diverse riding choices to keep any rider interested. The D.C. area is so varied that after years of riding, encompassing a cumulative distance of thousands of miles (although all within the local area), there are still many new places I want to ride to and explore.
Riding gives me a sense of balance and perspective which helps me appreciate the corner of the world in which I live. I’m certainly not the fastest rider out there, and I can’t ride as far as many riders – so it’s a good thing I’m not riding in a competition. But I enjoy riding as much as a kid who just learned to ride on their first bike. It puts a smile on my face. Each time I go out for a ride I find myself enjoying it. Each time I get back I find myself thinking about where I’m going to ride next, and then looking forward to it. I enjoy different kinds of rides on different kinds of bikes. Some might say I’m trying to make up for lost time. I think it’s just a matter of making the most of your time, however much time that may be. I was almost 50 years old when I really started riding consistently, so I guess I’m living proof that it’s never too late to start riding, or to start again.