Rediscovering bicycles, and her inner kid

An occasional series on getting from here to there.

When school was out in June, my 13-year-old son, Travis, and I drove to Sport Chalet for a new bike to replace his beater, which had finally lost its brakes. He chose a 12-speed, perfect for street riding, and I bought a little finger-triggered bell, the kind I had as a kid, for my own bike.

My husband gave me the bike a couple of birthdays ago, a pearly-green, elegant cruiser with seven gears. I didn't ride it much, though -- too many SUVs and people on cellphones clogging the narrow streets of Corona del Mar, where I live. At one point I bought a stand, converting the bike into an exercycle, and rode it in the living room while reading the morning paper. Travis rode it while watching TV, the cat in the basket, the two of them speeding off in place.

We hadn't ridden together in quite a while, but now Travis' new bike and my barely ridden one, with whitewalls as fresh as new paint, were an invitation. Yet, as we left the store, I worried: Would he want to ride with me?

Almost a decade ago, up the street at the park, I gave my son the penultimate push on his first ride without training wheels. He flew down the grassy hill, me running beside him, both of us yelling and laughing. But he is no longer a little kid. These days he rides alone, traversing the streets of our beach city, marking in color on a map where he's been.

When we got home with his bike, I said, a bit tentatively: "Want to go for a ride?"

He hesitated. I thought he would say no. Instead he said, "Where?"

I relaxed. "To the library?"

He shrugged. "Sure."

The next time, we biked to the other side of town to Travis' cat-sitting job, another time to the farmers market. We went on neighborhood-spanning rides -- through the park, past his elementary school, to the beach.

In our neighborhood, before the gas crisis, you used to mostly see swarms of cyclists moving down PCH on weekends, but now all types of people ride all types of bikes. Old bikes, new bikes, some riders wearing helmets, most without. Families. One woman on a beach cruiser always seems to have her basket cluttered with books and folders. One elderly gent rides with a yellow Post-it angled over his nose, protecting it from the sun, and yellow dishwashing gloves.

The increase in bike traffic hasn't smoothed out the interface between two-wheelers and four-wheelers. On a trip up the hill to the mall to buy a book, I made a hasty left turn across oncoming lanes. Travis followed. Horns honked. I cringed and slowed.

"You almost got me killed," he said, catching up with me, half serious, half joking.

"I'm sorry!" I said. "But take a lesson: Always look out for yourself, kid." Inwardly I berated myself: bad mom.

When we're out, I remember how much I used to love bike riding -- the sound of tires on asphalt, the smell of fresh-mowed grass, twittering birds, the wind in my face. As kids, we love these things, but we get older and forget we love them. We either get serious about riding, schedule the time, buy a bike as sleek as a greyhound and an outfit befitting the Tour de France, or we don't ride at all. When I'm riding with Travis, going wherever, wearing whatever, hooting and hollering on a fast downhill, I'm a kid again -- except when we're going uphill -- and the concerns of adulthood recede.

I do have one recurring anxious thought: These days of bike riding with my son are numbered. His own days of riding may even be numbered. Before too many more years pass, Travis will launch himself away and into the world, more likely in a car rather than on a bike. Now, while I complain about oil company greed and the price of gasoline, I'm secretly grateful. The prices have sent my son and me to the streets, gliding forward on two wheels, discovering that we can still have big fun. Riding in a car with mom may be mandatory, but biking with her is a voluntary act.

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett is host of "Writers on Writing" on KUCI-FM (88.9) and teaches at UC Irvine Extension. She's a contributor to the anthology "Knitting Through It: Inspiring Stories for Troubled Times."

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