The Travails of Being a New Cyclist
Here’s a picture of me on my bike. And then here’s a photo of the bike itself. It’s big. It’s really heavy with that huge battery in the back, so it’s also a bit unwieldy. But it is really neat to be a cyclist in the city, I’ve found. I like finding my new routes to take with the bike and I feel like I garner respect when riding it. Just last week a group of American tourists in the city approached me when I was stopped at a traffic light in Hiroo. They had a map and were slightly lost; I helped them, and as they were saying goodbye, one guy said, “Hey, is that a battery at the back of your bike?” I laughed and nodded. They were so enthralled that they took a picture of it. These things are not common in the States – I knew that, but I guess I forgot.
One thing I’m enjoying about the bike is figuring out how to navigate the maze of streets, pedestrians, cars and cyclists that populate the city. However, figuring things out and the actual “doing” are quite different. I know I need to keep to the left on the street, but when I wobble a bit, keeping to the left and not rolling off the sidewalk are quite different things. The pedestrians in Tokyo are just terrible. They’re slow, and they weave on the street. Their path is impossible to predict, so several times I’ve thought someone would move right and at the last second he swerved left and I had to quickly correct my course. Also, they are completely oblivious. They don’t look around them or listen. Sometimes they’re just staring into space and not paying attention to anything so they walk out right in front of my bike. I’ve already had to stop short more than once to avoid a pedestrian. Even when they’re walking toward me, they’ll stare at me for long moments and sometimes they force me to stop because they’re walking five abreast taking up the sidewalk. Where do they think I’m going to go? It’s maddening.
I have to admit that I have a funny habit when cycling – I talk to myself. Out loud. The running commentary goes something like, “Okay, made that turn. I wonder if that schoolgirl is going to move for me. Do you think she can see me? She’s only staring directly at me walking in the middle of the sidewalk. Aack, old lady in front of me – I have to avoid her. Wait, is she moving left or right? Maybe I should ride on the road. Oh man, is that a taxi coming up behind me…” And so it goes on. It’s a weird, little habit and I sort of bank on the fact that the Japanese don’t understand my English. It sort of helps me understand and correct and keep on the route.
Today I took my second spill off the bike. I know I’m still a terrible cyclist, and that’s after about three weeks of practice/improvement. Both of my falls took place in the same spot – in front of Nishimachi, Sydney’s school. There’s just a lot of pedestrians and cars right there and it makes me nervous. I have to learn to just stop riding, or even to walk the bike when I’m nervous, because when I’m nervous, I wobble more. In this case – and in the case of last week’s fall – I was trying to get onto the sidewalk and the curb is too high. If I was going fast, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but I was going very slowly and instead of rolling over the curb and onto the sidewalk, I hit it and fell over. Again, I was going about 5 feet per hour, so it was a slow-speed crash, but I have a lovely lace of cuts and bruises down my right leg. My right palm isn’t too pretty either. It’s about the same as the cuts last week, though. At least I’m not getting worse.
Most importantly I got back on the bike right afterward both times. I’m never going to improve if I don’t keep riding every day.
So I’m a little bit cut and bruised tonight, but I’ll take a bath and it will be all right in the morning, I’m sure. I am trying very hard not to be discouraged. Like many other things in life, becoming a cyclist takes time and practice. At least for me, it doesn’t come naturally. But hopefully, with practice, things will improve. I’ll keep you posted.