I enter the room with a lot of trepidation. I have always passed this room without a second glance. The few times I have glanced at it, I got intimidated by its occupants. More by the equipment than the people really!
It is a spin class. And I have never taken one.
The stationary bicycles scare me. They look complicated. I have come early to the class so I can get over the intimidation but I am still lost. The various gadgets on the bicycle are more complicated than my car when I had first bought it. If you left me in the cockpit of a plane, this is exactly how I would feel. It doesn’t help that the light in the room is dim and the music loud. It is disorienting.
There are a couple of other girls already spinning away to glory. They look professional. As if they have previously participated in the Tour de France. They simply stare at me as I struggle with the stationary bike. I try one after the other. All of them are too high for me. My legs barely can reach the peddles. My arms can barely grasp the handle. I can see there is a trick to lower the seat and push it forward but I am unable to figure it out. I pull some lever and the seat suddenly falls with a thud almost hitting my knuckles and startling me.
At that moment, the instructor walks in. Like a savior. She is of my height. She pauses at the bike I was struggling with and with a few quick twists and turns of knobs, she adjusts it perfectly for me.
There you go, she smiles kindly.
Thanks a lot, I say.
Never taken spin before?
Nope, I say. I am a spin virgin.
Well, well. I will have to make sure you enjoy it, she says. We don’t want to scare you away the first class now, do we?
I get on to the bike and start peddling slowly as the instructor sets up for the class.
Cycling, even on a stationary bike, brings back such bittersweet memories.
One summer, during the holidays, my brother rented a bicycle for my sister. It was a short, red one meant for girls i.e. without the horizontal rod in the front so girls in skirts could ride it. My sister was terrified of the thing. She just couldn’t get the hang of it and was very scared of falling. She never could get the balance right and kept insisting my brother hold her and the bicycle at all times. They barely would go two strides before she screamed and hopped off. Then she would try again and the same thing continued.
Frustrated with her, my brother asked if I would try. I jumped up. For the first few minutes, until I got a hang of it, my brother was holding me, preventing me from falling, and ran alongside as I gingerly peddled. It was one of those very clichéd scenes. The father running alongside a child on her first bike. Only I was twelve and it was my brother. I did not realize when he had let go. I kept on peddling and after a while, after a long while, I realized something was amiss. I turned and found my brother in a distance, standing with both hands on his hips, smiling proudly because he had succeeded both in teaching me and tricking me into thinking he was still holding me. The minute I realized he wasn’t holding the bicycle, I panicked and lost my balance and before he could reach me, fell with a great thud.
That’s not the fun part. The fun part came in the following days. When the rented red bicycle meant for girls was returned and I had to continue the rest of my lessons on the regular men’s bicycle. This bicycle was imported straight from hell. It was too high for a short twelve year old girl. It was old and rusty and contained a very strange rattling chain that threatened to dislodge at any time. I could climb onto it with the help of my brother and a very high rock or some sort of elevation next to the road. I could balance it alright once I got on to it after the first few swerves. But I did not know how to stop it.
Since my legs could not reach the ground once I had mounted the high bicycle and since that wretched rod sat horizontally between the handle and the seat, it was difficult to stop the thing without getting hurt in places I shouldn’t have been getting hurt. So the only way I could come to a stop was to let go of the bicycle and fall to the ground. My brother sort of developed an instinct and gauged when and where I was going to fall and ran to the spot to prevent the bicycle from falling or to provide me a cushion of his body when I fell. He has done a lot of sweet things for me over the years, but that was the best!
But he eventually got bored of trying to teach me to balance the bicycle properly. He pointed out that there were several short boys in town who rode similar bicycles without any difficulty. Why couldn’t I just learn the trick?
The trick was called scissors (kainchi) style. You sort of wedged your right leg from underneath the rod to reach the right peddle and held the seat under your right arm balancing yourself by holding on to the rod. With the left hand, you grasped the handle and put your left foot on the left peddle and voila, you were talking with the wind. It was a very awkward position but the boys who did it, did it with a lot of aplomb. However, it required a lot of upper body strength which I lacked being a twig-like twelve year old (oh yes, I was once twig like!). And I was a girl! It was an extremely ungraceful position for a girl. My brother just didn’t get that.
After the first few days, he decided it was not worth trying to teach me anymore. Although athletic, he couldn’t possibly run behind the bicycle all the time. I would never learn speed that way and would always ride at a speed he could run, he concluded. And he couldn’t make me grow taller or make me develop upper body strength or make me let go of my lady-like hang-ups. He definitely couldn’t keep renting the red bicycle meant for girls.
One afternoon, a particularly hot afternoon that had made everyone lazy and retire for an afternoon nap, I sneaked the bicycle out. This was the first time I was trying to ride on my own without my brother. The only rock that was high enough, off of which I could mount the bicycle, was located off the main road in the fields opposite our house.
I took the bicycle to this rock. I do not remember how many attempts I made to mount it. The hot sun, the long skirt, the perspiration, the falling down at every attempt – nothing deterred me. I tried. And tried. And tried.
If I had retained any of that perseverance for the rest of my life, I would have probably gone places. Sadly I did not. Anyhow, I succeeded in finally getting onto the bicycle and balancing it enough to start peddling. Without the watchful eye of my brother and emboldened by the achievement, I went a little farther than I had imagined on the main road. And at a great speed too. The wind was whipping through my hair and clothes rendering the heat pointless, the bicycle had become lighter than air, and I was just floating. This was the speed my brother was talking about. He couldn’t have ever run this fast. And see I was doing it. I felt so proud! I was sure he would be proud of me too if he saw me at that speed.
Suddenly, the road curved and I took a turn and collided head on with another bicyclist (thank god, not a truck or a bus)! I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t control the bicycle. It was one of the mightiest falls I have ever had. I am surprised I survived that crash without a broken bone. The other bicyclist, a more experienced lad with a better control on his bicycle, simply dusted himself off and went on his way after yelling at me for my carelessness. I did not really pause to look at my own injuries. I was only concerned about the bicycle. The infamous chain had dislodged itself. The peddle on the side I fell, the left side, was completely distorted.
My brother was going to be furious. More than that I feared my father was going to kill us both – my brother for teaching me the big bicycle and me for sneaking out. Reader, you do not want to know how I dragged that broken bicycle all the way home. All the exhilaration of my ride was forgotten under the weight of the misery of dragging the bicycle home. Because the chain had dislodged, the bicycle wheels would not turn anymore. I did not have the first clue how to put the chain back into its place. It was way too hard and greasy. Not to mention the people staring at the twelve-year-old, twig-like girl in tattered clothes, bleeding shins, face and hands covered in grease, walking home saddled with a broken bicycle.
I came home to find my brother pacing the verandah. He would have probably yelled at me but looking at my appearance, he exhibited a great control on his temper. He quietly set to work to fix the damage to the bicycle. The idea was to see if he can fix it quickly before father woke up. He managed to fix the chain but the peddle proved to be more stubborn. The more he tried to hammer it back into its original shape, the more distorted it became.
Father was going to find out.
To this day I don’t know what my brother said to father. I do not know if he took the blame onto himself or if father just did not care one way or the other. But I do know that I never tried riding a bicycle again.
Not until now. Not until this spin class. I know spinning is not going to be an easy or favorite exercise for me. Not even with the stationary bike with a bunch of adjustments for a short girl and a kind instructor who has promised to make it enjoyable. I just don’t think I can add this routine to my schedule. Not any time soon!