Because I’m very busy this week laying around on the couch while I try to keep cookie crumbs and wine stains out of the pages of the books I’m reading, I’m going to reprint an oldie but (hopefully) a goodie – one of the first essays I ever had published. This piece first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on Feb 25 2006 and is responsible for my delusion that I have something compelling to say in print. Wishing you all a relaxing week and, as they say in Germany, a good push into the New Year!
My husband has a French mistress, and she is a beauty to behold — a Look 585 road bike. Silver and black and weighing only 16 pounds, she was built for speed in a way I never will be.
Andrew’s affection for her is evident whenever he recounts, misty-eyed, their adventures on his Saturday group ride, and he is forever shopping for little gifts — new tires, a jersey for himself that complements her coloring — to show her how much he cares.
It wasn’t always this way. When we met in graduate school in Arizona he was strictly a recreational cyclist and a noncommitted one at that — when his mountain bike was stolen from his apartment balcony, he expressed remorse but quickly moved on.
Once we were married he began the drift into road biking, and I was an unwitting accomplice. When he took me to see my first professional road race in Philadelphia, I was captivated by the spectacle of these graceful athletes and their gleaming cycles. Soon I, too, was reading pro cycling magazines and watching the Tour de France while Andrew explained tactics and strategies to me. But his relationship with biking was still strictly platonic back then.
Eight years ago we moved to the Bay Area, and that’s when things got serious. With temperate weather year-round and access to some of the country’s best bike routes right out our front door, he was able to indulge in his passion with new fervor. He joined a group of like-minded cyclists who have formed a support system for their biking co- dependencies. They’re a competitive bunch, jealously commenting on one another’s bike components and merciless when it comes to flat tires, winter flab or poor road handling. This crew has been on high e-mail alert for the past month, plotting optimal viewing spots for the Amgen Tour of California, the 700-mile race that concludes Sunday and saw some of cycling’s superstars ride the same roads that the group follows every week.
Taking care of Andrew’s bikes — the Look and her predecessor, a Belgian Ridley relegated to “rain bike” status when she arrived — requires a phalanx of specialists. My husband spends a lot of off-bike hours perusing catalogs and visiting bike shops, searching for just the right component, tire or winter bibs. Walking into a local bike shop with him is akin to walking into Cheers with Norm. “ANDREW!” comes the cry from the bike mechanics and other shoppers.
At one point I succumbed to the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality. It was mostly a punitive decision, made one sunny Saturday when Andrew pulled up a few minutes late from his five-hour ride. “I’m going to buy myself a bike, back in an hour,” I screeched through clenched teeth as I gunned out of the driveway. It was the only way I could think of to make him understand my jealousy over the time and money he spent on Mlle. Look.
I went to one of his favorite bike shops and uttered the words its owner longed to hear: “I want a bike, shoes, helmet and riding kit, and money is no object.” They set me up with a beautiful rig and the latest-model helmet and riding shoes. My husband’s jaw dropped when he saw my purchases.
But then I had to ride the damned thing. The last time I’d sat on a bike was 15 years earlier when I lived in Germany, tooling around Munich’s wide, flat bike paths on a rickety three-speed that I’d bought at a hardware store. My idea of a biking challenge back then was to ride all the way from one Biergarten to the next without sliding drunkenly off the seat.
But where we live in the Oakland hills, a simple bike ride out the front door involves either a harrowing drop or a thigh- busting grind uphill. After a few months I’d progressed enough to take a one-hour ride and come back exhilarated — but most of my elation came from surviving the hills and the traffic, not from having any fun the ride. When the winter rains came I put the bike away, and when spring returned, I kept finding reasons not to get on again. By July I was still giving the bike wide berth, and I had to face the facts; I just didn’t love my bike, and it was time to end the relationship.
So I put an ad on Craigslist and within a week was handing over the bike, helmet and all, to a buyer who lives out in the suburban flatlands east of Oakland. My flirtation with cycling was over.
I do recognize all the good things that Mlle. Look brings to my relationship with my husband. He never goes out carousing at night for fear of showing weakness to his riding group. During the month of July I can count on him to be available to watch our kids anytime because he doesn’t leave the house if Versus is showing anything related to Lance Armstrong. When he gets a good ride in, he shows his gratitude to me in a number of pleasing ways including, but not limited to, yard work. (Did I mention that his physique is as good as or better than when we met?)
In the end, I found a way to make peace with Mlle. Look. Meet Mr. Toshiba. He’s got a 17-inch screen, wireless access, excellent graphics and loves the caress of my typing fingers. With him I can pour out the stories that I’ve been meaning to write all these years, bringing me a level of satisfaction and accomplishment that is, I imagine, like completing a tough Saturday ride.
He’s the perfect companion for when Andrew’s out with his French mistress, and has added the balance we need to keep our marriage rolling along.