There are days when I ride Oranje Lightning, with 75+ pounds of kids in tow against gusting winds and uphill that I have to channel Rosie the Riveter to pedal the rest of the way to our destination. In my head, I visualize when I was in labor with my daughter for 36 hours and it pumps me up. I know that if I could push out a 9-pound baby who did not want to greet this cruel sweet world that I CAN DO ANYTHING!
On the days when I overcome the tough rides, I want to pull out my superhero cape and ride with pride. But then I remember that my daughter would get annoyed by the fabric flapping in her face as we ride down the road … it also occurs to me that a cape would be a little much.
But maybe a skirt instead of a cape? The skirt would honor my feminist ancestors who were forced to wear dresses and corsets due to social customs and were encouraged to be passive and demur. But when you bike in a skirt you can turn the notion of passivity and gentleness on its head, and show the world that women can be graceful yet powerful, open-minded yet assertive, and tough as nails. (See the sidebar below for more on my feminist thoughts as well as the awesome documentary, Makers.)
It turns out I’m not the only woman who is proud to bike in a skirt, there is actually a specific ride for women like me called the “Skirts on Bikes!” Now this is a ride I definitely think needs to be recreated in Chicago! However, it looks like the Skirts on Bikes! ride only happened once in 2011 in New York in response to a potentially fictional story of a woman who claimed a police officer threatened to ticket her for wearing too short of a skirt while riding her bike. The woman who claimed to have been ticketed was at this Skirts on Bikes! ride and is quoted as saying, “We felt powerful.” I would tend to agree. If you keep googling “skirts” AND “bikes,” you will also come upon this hilarious video tip about how to bike in a skirt without exposing yourself by MacGyvering skorts out of your skirt using a penny and a hair band.
There are other times when I don’t feel so powerful on the Xtracycle or as a woman in general. The mantra, “I am woman, hear me ROAR!” turns into “I am woman, hear me SHRIEK!” I feel like one of those old ladies riding a tricycle painfully slow to the grocery store. And while I commend them for riding a bike, I hate to see them struggle.
Specifically, I think of two times when I felt helpless and anything but powerful on Oranje Lightning. The first time was just a month into getting the Xtracycle so I was still getting my bearings. My nightmare of falling while on the bike had partially come to life. (I say partially because the bike actually just tipped over slowly … with the kids on board).
Tipping off the Xtracycle
The Xtracycle is extremely stable while you are pedaling and in motion. However, when you are trying to walk the Xtracycle with a significant amount of weight on the back, it takes more muscle and skill to maneuver. There is a stoplight by my house where I often cross on the sidewalk and sometimes need to make a sharp turn at the corner. Because of the sharp angles of the sidewalk corner and the fact that I was off the bike and pulling it on foot, I wasn’t able to keep the bike upright when I attempted to turn this corner and the bike went down. The kids were screaming and pinned between the sidewalk and the bike, and I was sure people were staring at us from their cars in utter disgust at my lack of biking/mothering skills.
Then, my adrenaline kicked in and I found the strength to hoist the bike up and regain its upright position. We pedaled the short distance home while I tried to calm the kids down and convince my overly emotional daughter that her leg was not broken. After that day, I learned that whenever I’m walking the bike, I can’t have much weight on the bike. Thus, my daughter has to be off the bike when we are walking it. For example, when I get the bike out of a parking space, I might load my son first (because he wants to run all over the place) and move the bike to a position where I can take off without having to negotiate any tight turns. At this point, I put my daughter on the bike and take off.
Although we’ve had a few wavers since that bad fall at the stop light, none have been as bad as the first. And now, my daughter has figured out that she can put her foot out to help push the bike back up if we start to tilt over too far. This feminist mommy is proud of her daughter for finding her own girl power!
Paralyzed by a Broken KickBack
Admittedly, I am not the ideal feminist. While I love the stories of women fighting for an equal position in this world, I do not always walk — or pedal — the talk. Even though I am adept at riding around on the Xtracycle with the kids, I have no idea what to do if something goes wrong with the Xtracycle, short of filling the tires with air. (And thankfully, we have the Schwalbe Big Ben tires that are puncture resistant!) I have always let my husband handle the maintenance and cleaning of our bikes and was happy to sashay out the door, hop on my well-maintained Xtracycle, and hum a happy tune of ignorance as I pedaled away.
I came to the harsh realization that I need to know more about how to take care of the Xtracycle when the spring on the KickBack Kickstand broke about a mile away from our house. Who knew that a non-functioning kickstand would be so debilitating! (For those who are unfamiliar with the KickBack Kickstand: there is a long spring that allows the KickBack Kickstand to swing up into the bottom of the bike and out of your way while you are riding the Xtracycle. Otherwise, the KickBack Kickstand would obnoxiously drag on the ground while you ride and would probably get damaged.)
Our KickBack Kickstand has broken before, but of course I let my husband fix it and chose to remain oblivious as to how to fix it. When the KickBack Kickstand broke for me, I was with the kids in a Walgreens parking lot and I took the Xtracycle from the sidewalk to the pavement, which was at most a 3-inch drop. You’re not supposed to jump curbs with the Xtracycle, but I didn’t think this was much of a curb. Unfortunately, the curb must of cut the string that holds the spring to the kickstand in place so the kickstand fell down and stayed down. Such a pain!
The kids were miserable on this warm summer day, sitting on the hot black pavement of the parking lot. And they weren’t afraid to show it! We were supposed to have a picnic in the park and instead I was frantically giving them food from their picnic lunch while I called my husband and googled how to fix a broken KickBack Kickstand.
After about 30 minutes of effort, I was able to fix the broken string and hook it onto a screw behind the saddlebags so that the kickstand didn’t drag while we biked but the kickstand could still be brought down so I could unload the kids from the bike when we got home. It’s nearly impossible to unload the kids from the bike if you don’t have the double kickstand!
The next day my husband and I looked at the KickBack Kickstand together. I didn’t fix it properly – I was supposed to stretch the spring much farther back closer to the hub of the wheel (see picture). To do that, you really need to pull back some of the saddlebag. But now I know how to fix it if it should break again. Now, I am empowered to fix my bike!
Life is really busy. I love the Xtracycle because it gets my family outdoors and allows me to work out while transporting my kids to the places we need to go. I’m working on my master’s degree so the days of jogging on the treadmill are few and far between. But because life is busy I don’t have the time to learn how to take care of my bike. My vow from this day forward is to be more involved in taking care of our bikes. And even though the Xtracycle has the Big Ben tires, I need to learn how to patch a flat tire and grease up the gears — or whatever else you do to maintain your bike! Finally, I’m going to involve my kids in bike maintenance so they know how to take care of their bikes and don’t have to enter adulthood as ignorant as myself.
SIDEBAR FOR MAKERS: I don’t think I really understood my true feminist feelings until I saw the PBS documentary, Makers: Women Make America. I was mesmerized by this documentary. I bought it and gave it to my family as Christmas gifts. It made me realize how far women have come and also how far women still need to go. Most of all, Makers made me love being a woman and love our history of fighting for our rights. Although we are still fighting for our rights, I also think we are learning how to embrace and leverage our differences from men instead of trying to shed those differences.