Ghost rider

Copyright of Helena Maratheftis

I need to get something off my chest. I have something big to confess…

I don’t know how to ride a bike.

There, I said it.

I mean, I have been on a bike before (no, it didn’t have any stabilisers if you’re wondering). But it was my sister’s bike and I would only ride it on a straight line. I couldn’t turn without putting my foot on the ground. I must have been 12-13 at that time and I haven’t attempted it ever since.

There it is. My shocking story. I’m in my mid-twenties and I don’t know how to ride a bike. There’s many things I don’t know how to do or I haven’t given a go at: I don’t drive, I don’t know how to scuba dive or have I attempted to do a skydive. I have no problem admitting all these to people and I have never heard anyone come back to me with a ‘WHAT?! You don’t know how to drive?!’ (apart from a few Greeks who spent the summer of their 18th year getting their driving licence – and were the ones the rest of us used to rely on back home).

But there’s nothing that makes me feel more embarrassed to admit than that: I don’t know how to ride a bike. (Although my recent confession that I had never thrown a frisbee was also matched with disbelief by my co-workers. ‘-How can you have never thrown a frisbee? – We don’t have parks in Athens. -But you must have frisbees. – They’re an uncommon species, we don’t even have a Greek word for it.’)

It wasn’t a big deal when I lived in Greece. The only time I had to come forth and reveal this socking story when I was holidaying in Spetses and everyone suggested renting a bike to get around. I wanted to hide in shame and told them we should try the horse-drawn carriages instead. But apart from that it was secret well-kept and something I didn’t care too much about.

Maybe a bit when I used to flick through images of effortlessly cool ladies on bikes with wind-swept hair looking happier about their morning commute than most people on my carriage. Then I was a bit jealous. Secretly envious of those fearless creatures who brave the streets on this unbeknownst to me strange vehicle. But they were far away. In a different land, in cities where people have lunch breaks in parks and play the frisbee with their friends and have picnics on gingham blankets. In other words, NOT in Athens.

And then I moved to one of those faraway places, otherwise known as England. Where people cycle to work and they own picnic blankets and frisbees. Funnily enough, I also moved across the street from Bobbin, the cutest bike shop ever. Now, I’d rather walk in a Hermes shop in rags than walk into Bobbin and ask for a bike with stabilisers. I have that much respect for that place.

My feelings of cycling inadequacy grow bigger by the day in this country. My humiliation reached an all time low in Brighton earlier this year. Someone revealed my secret to the girls that had just arrived to Brighton from London. On their bikes. I felt a bit like this.

As if that wasn’t enough, the city has now been flooded with the Boris bikes. Boris, our Mayor and also a neighbour, is frequently snapped on his own bike riding to work and he recently introduced the new bike scheme which is similar to VeLib in France. (For an interesting story on fees and charges, read the Evening Standard article that deemed Boris bikes as the costliest in Europe.)

Everywhere I turn these past few days, the docking stations are there to mock me. The city is buzzing with excitement about this new endeavour and people seem to be patient enough to withstand the glitches of the first few weeks. On my coffee break last Friday I counted 16 bikes out of 20 missing from the docks near my office. I got a bit closer to inspect them, reluctantly, with a mixture of awe and curiosity.

And now I’m haunted. I daydream about the day I’ll get my key and I will get on my very own bike (for the next 30 minutes). Trembling with excitement and a lil’ bit of fear, I will put one foot on the pedal and I’ll slowly try to pick up the other one from the ground. Not caring if someone is watching me while I try to cycle for the first time after 13 years, clumsy and scared but anticipating the journey on the road ahead.

To be continued…

PS. Many thanks to Helena for lending me her lovely photo of the Boris bikes. I was planning to take one to accompany this post but when I saw hers, I thought it was perfectly fitting. Check her work out!

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