I was riding my bike along the lakefront path early one morning this past week, standing up out of the seat and pedaling as hard as I could to gain speed on a slight incline when my right foot slipped off the pedal.
Suddenly, I found myself seated on the bike frame instead of the seat as I careened out of control across the oncoming lane and into the grass, my legs spinning wildly as I tried to stay upright.
Somehow, I never really crashed to the ground, which doesn’t explain how I still managed to come away with a bloody left knee and cuts to both shins.
It was all over in a few seconds, and I was on my way. But it’s amazing what can go through a person’s mind in such a short time.
On another day or at another time of day, I likely would have crashed into an oncoming rider, and we’d have both been lying there, waiting for an ambulance — and it would have been my fault. Somehow, I managed to think about all that while, at the same time, feeling embarrassed that somebody must have witnessed the spectacle I had just made of myself.
It even occurred to me that I might have got myself killed, which was not a new thought on the often hectic lakefront bike path, though I usually associate it with someone else’s reckless behavior instead of my own.
Just like that, my self-confidence ebbed away, and I was feeling my age.
Part of me thinks a guy ought to do something every few years to get his knees skinned up just to remind himself he’s still alive. Another part questions how much sense it makes to be doing something for health reasons that could possibly get you killed.
I swear I really don’t ride all that fast. Other riders regularly pass me, and that doesn’t bother me (unless they’re on a Divvy).
My hybrid bike is built more for comfort than speed anyhow, and the legs aren’t quite what they used to be.
But it’s also true that I ride pretty much as hard as I can from start to finish in hopes of replicating the exercise benefits I used to receive from running before I had the right knee replaced.
My younger brother was always the kid who would roll up to the crest of a hill on his bicycle, release the brakes and let her rip, no consideration to slowing down before he reached the bottom. Fearless.
I would apply the brakes all the way down a hill, more worried about feeling out of control and losing my balance than about bringing up the rear.
These days, my brother, who is two years younger, is a mountain biker. Last year, he talked me into riding on a trail through the woods in a hilly area. He’d zip through the turns as if the trees weren’t there to catch you in a mistake. Like always, I went as slow as possible on the downhill, inching my way through the curves.
Our dad was 68 when he died. Our grandfather 67. I’m 66.
I don’t dwell on that set of facts, but I do think about it from time to time. I’m in better health than they were. But if heredity is half the battle, it bears noting that everyone always said I took after my dad.
I thought about all that, too, as I finished the last five miles of my ride, taking it considerably more slowly than before.
To regain some confidence, I rode twice up Cricket Hill, the pint-sized sledding hill at Montrose that passes for elevation change in Chicago. That’s something old guys do to prove to themselves they still can.
On the way back down, though, I rode the brakes.
Because old guys ought to be smart enough to know their limitations.