For the past few weeks, I've been riding my bike to work. Nothing remarkable in that you might think, but it's been the first time I've been on a bike since 1980.
As a kid growing up in the 1970s, owning a Malvern Star bike was the equivalent of a Game Boy, PS2, SUV and a swimming pool combined. You just weren't a kid without a bike and certainly regarded as a real weakling if you couldn't ride the damn thing without trainer wheels.
The Christmas of my seventh year on this earth was when Father Christmas bestowed a maroon-coloured Malvern Star on me.
It had it all - the sissy bar, a crocodile snout-shaped long 'hot rod' padded glittery seat and a plastic basket on the front with a purple flower affixed to it. Dad very patiently taught me how to ride it without the aid of any unnecessarily expensive and poncy trainer wheels. I remember feeling how thankful that our back yard's lawn was so forgivingly soft immediately after the numerous times I wobbled into the brush fence and fell backwards as if shot.
Anyhow, a few evenings later I had the bike-riding thing well under control. No helmets in those days; but seeing as the only car (apart from ours) that used to drive up our non-kerbed street was Dulcie Pfitzner who never changed up from second gear we were pretty safe - not to mention having the added insurance of the bright orange flag sticky-taped to the back of the sissy bar.
Notwithstanding these new developments in coolness and mobility, I couldn't have cared less about riding my bike. Yes, it got me to the park (only three streets away), around the neighbourhood (my thongs carried me along OK too) and even to the deli for a 10c handful of mixed lollies but the thrill of it all somehow passed me by. When my brothers and the neighbours' kids were out cycling down the street, I was either wedged into the dirt via my steel stilts (made by Dad), reading a book or busy setting up a cubby house from bedsheets, shoe boxes and buckets.
Therefore, when most kids moved from a Malvern Star to a 'racer' that they rode to high school, I didn't get one. It was easier for me to get a lift with Dad in his 1950's Morris Minor (one of his renovating projects that never got done) or just walk. When I met, fell for and married Love Chunks, his multi-million dollar 'Cecil Walker' bike was one of his most prized possessions (still is) and he'd taken it on a tour around Tasmania. LC must have been disappointed that his Main Squeeze for Life didn't own a bike; didn't want to own a bike and considered the mere thought of renting a bike on holiday about as enjoyable as being stabbed in the eye with a fruit knife and having a VISA-card bill attached to it.
A few months ago however, things changed. It was apparently cheaper to fill up our station wagon with Cibo's soy latte than petrol and my work was only 3km away. Plus my girth was increasing and, most importantly, Sapphire had thrown away her training wheels and was always pleading to go on a bike ride.
Fate has a way of steering you in the right direction, doesn't it? (although the frequent trips through the chocolate aisle at Coles don't count). On dealsdirect, one of my favourite bargain websites, I found him - a gleaming, sexy Italian named Masano. He was only $99 (plus $20 postage), insultingly marked down from $498. I forwarded his details on to Love Chunks who generously agreed that Masano was a bargain and definitely worth inviting in to our family.
LC lovingly unpacked the flat box and set him up for me as I blushing fumbled with the chin straps of my unbecoming bike helmet. Sapphire and I rode to our park - she with confidence and me with the calmness and grace of an epileptic on a rollercoaster ride. Somehow, I didn't fall and an involuntary "Woo Hoo!" or two even slipped out of my mouth.
The 3km trip **up the hill** to work was excruciating - I was gasping in agony before even clearing the boundary of Sapphire's school and earned many amused 'Good morning, a bit hard going, eh love?' comments from pensioners walking downhill with their poodles. On the plus side, I discovered the secret society of fellow cyclists, who all greeted me with a friendly smile and a 'G'day'.
Once at work, my hair stuck to my head in a sweat slick, my t-shirt and shorts were awash and my walk into the office could only be kindly described as cowboy-like. Things were not pretty.
It was even uglier in the ladies' loos as I attempted a bushman's bath and prayed like hell that Abdul the cleaner wasn't going to wander in with his mop. Perhaps you'll be brave and picture the scene - me in my birthday suit, splashing myself all over with handbasin water, drenching the ol 'pits in BO-repellent and cursing when I found that I didn't bring along a clean pair of knickers and had to put the sweat-saturated ones back on under my nice work trousers. For a crazy second or two I contemplated doing a handstand under the hand-dryer to improve things a little but could hear my boss approaching the door.....
Things have improved since those challenging September mornings. I now tend to only get one comment per morning, usually a bit more ribald, and likely to be from a brickie than an oldie: "Nice rack, darl." I'm still sweatier than a eccy-fuelled raver at a 3 day dance party, but I now remember my clean undies and have perfected my damp flannel-flicking techniques.
Most days, I even yell out "Woo HOOOOO!" on the way home as I careen downhill without ever needing to pedal. I feel faster than a Ferrari, more athletic than an Olympian and determinedly refuse to shatter these illusions by seeing my reflection in the Glynburn Road shop windows. Why didn't anyone ever tell me when I was seven, twelve, twenty seven or thirty seven how much free fun riding a bike would be?