I haven’t owned a bike for 12 years. I had one in college, but I rode it so infrequently that it rusted to the bike rack, had the wheel stolen, and was eventually cut off and hauled away, presumably by the Evanston police authority. Much to my father’s dismay, biking was just never really my thing. Even when I didn’t have a car, I preferred to walk and/or take public transportation.
Now, I find myself again in a town with excellent public transportation and no car. But this time, I have a 2-year-old with me all the time, and I have to do grocery shopping for a family of 5. On top of that, Swiss people are big bike-riders. There are literally hundreds of bikes parked near the Münsingen train station, and many hundreds more in the city of Bern. Needless to say, after our first week here, I got a bike and shortly after that a trailer for Henry to ride in.
The bike is a cheap (by Swiss standards), used bike that Joe calls the “Peewee Herman bike.” It squeaks when I pedal, the front brake shrieks like a banshee so I try to only use the back brake, and it has only two gears (down from at least three that it used to have). It also has a front headlight that is powered by the wheels, so when it is engaged, it makes a whirring sound like a quiet electric sander. Lets just say, you can hear me coming!
After the first trip I made to the grocery store, I was actually sore. It was a literal “pain in the butt.” The next day I got back on the bike and I thought, “You have got to be kidding me!” Ouch! But, Joe assured me that the pain would eventually go away. Henry also took some time adjusting to his new mode of transportation. He would struggle getting in and out, and whine and cry during the rides, especially the first couple of times I put groceries next to him in the trailer. But, I pressed on.
I have to admit, that it is good exercise. We happen to live at the lowest point in town, near the river. So, going anywhere is slightly up hill. But, coming back home is a breeze. This is great when I’ve got a trailer with a 40-pound child and another 50 pounds of groceries, and I barely have to pedal to get them home. However, it’s not so great when I show up for music class or church sweaty and out of breath like I just came from the gym.
As we mentioned before, the kids got bikes and learned to ride them without training wheels in just a couple of days. Now they are experts, just like the other Swiss kids. I have ridden all around town with Henry in tow and Emily and James following behind. This includes riding on roads with cars and crossing bridges to get to the grocery store, train station, swimming pool, dentist, playground, etc. Not, that we haven’t had our share of mishaps (The scrapes and bruises on James’s legs were proof of that for a couple of weeks), but all in all we get around really well. Fortunately, bikers (and pedestrians) in Switzerland have the right-of-way most of the time. Because there are so many bikes, it is a high priority, so cars have to wait for bikes at intersections, even wait to pass a bike on a narrow road.
Joe finally got his bike this week. His is another cheap, used bike that didn’t even work when we got it. Fortunately, Joe has become quite the bike mechanic. After replacing the chain and the tires and tuning it up a bit, he rode it to the train station this morning with all the other business commuters riding bikes in suits with their briefcases strapped to the back. And, last night we went on our first official family bike ride. Even though I didn’t have a bike in Milwaukee, and Emily and James could never really get very far, this is something I’ve always wanted to do. And last night, we finally did it! We took the whole family to the edge of town, past many swiss style homes, and by an open field with a beautiful view of the mountains, trains rushing by and even a few cows and sheep.
I have to admit, I actually enjoy getting on my bike now. I won’t be doing long distances any time soon (sorry dad!), but it is no longer a pain in the butt, literally or figuratively. Even Henry has learned to enjoy his new ride. Most of the time, when we pull into our driveway and I get off the bike he says, “That was a great ride, mom!”