(Our bike buying adventure)
Short backstory here. I have wanted to love riding a bike for some time. I learned to ride on “the” family bike. Of course, it was a boy’s bike and way too big for me. We lived in a very hilly countryside, so if I tried riding the bike to a friend’s house, I had to walk it up the hills half of the time (it had zero gears). I was never comfortable on it and certainly couldn’t let go of the handlebars like my brother did. I quickly became disillusioned with riding a bike since it was not a lot of fun. Even then, I envied the kids that did love to ride.
Fast forward several decades and I’m in bike-centric Denver. Bike lanes, bike trails, bike laws, bike advocates – bikes are an accepted and expected mode of transport in Denver. It was then that I decided I shall love to bike. I took a couple of classes and rode borrowed bikes only to be thwarted by an arthritic hip in need of replacement. Fast forward to now in Portugal. I have a new hip, we don’t have a car, walking everywhere is getting old. I remember my declaration that I shall love to ride bike.
Wayne and I decided that folding bikes were a must. We have visions of taking our bikes on the train to other cities that we can then explore by bike. We can also take them with us wherever we should make our home in the future. Reality hit us as we climbed the hills on foot in most of the towns we have visited. Hmmmm. Electric assist sounds good too. Wayne found the bikes we wanted online and available at our local Decathlon (sporting goods) store. Google Maps said the store was an hour walk away. The online bus schedule said there was a bus that stopped nearby.
I have to take a moment to tell you about my relationship with the local bus company website. I always get it wrong. I really do know how to read a bus/train schedule. I used the Light Rail in Denver all the time…and a few buses. Anyway, I thought we were on the bus that we needed, only to be dropped off about a 30 min walk from our destination. Cab stand nearby – we cabbed it.
I don’t think either of us set out to make a purchase that day. Perhaps the adventure of getting there convinced us we may not take the trouble to return, and if we didn’t buy them that day, then we’d still have no bikes. We looked at non-electric folding bikes, but, ultimately decided to get the combos. They were not in stock but were expected within a couple of days. The store was nice enough to check the bus schedule for us – next bus 1½ hours from now, they called a cab for us but as soon as we got outside, the bus pulled up!
A few days later our bikes are in and we have to get back there. Arrrgh! Cab! Our bike guy, Mario assembled them, we got some quick instructions, bought some cheap locks, and were out the door. We are riding these puppies home!
I hadn’t been on a bike for about three years – and it wasn’t fun then. The wheels on folding bikes are smaller, so the turning radius is a bit wonky from full size wheels. We exit the store driveway, I ride across the walkway (no traffic), attempt to turn left up the ramp on to the sidewalk. WIPEOUT! That didn’t take long. Shake it off and keep going, riding the sidewalk and using electric assist to go up the hills. Uh-oh. The sidewalk disappears, no bike lane and not much of a shoulder. Bravely onward to the next roundabout…panting heavily (I’ve been holding my breath), we walk across and travel the next sidewalk. We know at the next roundabout, there is a bike lane on the far side of the right turn we need to make. Okay, that’s our objective. Not only is there no crosswalk at the roundabout, the sidewalk quickly narrows to nothing, and it’s a very busy intersection. How the H are bikes supposed to get over there? We tried going through a grocery store parking lot – no throughway. Dang. Walked the bikes to the roundabout and made our right turn, and now the electric assist is a lifesaver. Haul ass with traffic to the next crosswalk, get on to the bike path, and finally b.r.e.a.t.h.e. We were not quite home yet, but the rest was not nearly as perilous. Upon arrival at our building and some learning curve frustration as we figured out how to fold the bikes, we got them into the elevator and then collapsed in our apartment.
That should be the end of my story. We both had considered that we would need better locks and probably helmets. Then the value of the bikes prompted that they be insured against theft. My efforts to find theft insurance for bikes netted futile online searches, unanswered emails and ignored messages. If I were in the UK, I could get coverage. It seemed pretty impossible to get bike theft insurance in Portugal. The Decathlon website had a reference to insurance, but I couldn’t complete a purchase. A reminder lesson to me – always ASK. I emailed customer service; they answered that you can only buy the insurance at the store at the time of purchase. Whaaaaa? No one had ever mentioned it…in any language. I pleaded my case and, since the purchase was recent, coverage was allowed. I called our bike guy to ask if he could just write it up since he assembled them. No, he had to take pictures, verify serial number, etc. Then the dark tunnel of dread overcame me. Dunh dunh dunh. You mean we have to go back there – with the bikes? Yup.
This time we were a tad smarter. I called a cab and told her we needed a bigger car for 2 bikes. The normal size cab pulls up, puts my bike in and realizes that Wayne’s must go, too. No can do. I tried in vain to explain in my pig-Portuguese that I had asked for a bigger car. He called the office and assured us a cab was on its way. Another 8 or so minutes, so not that long really, our cab pulls up and delivers us to Decathlon. While there, we also got our better locks – the insurance required it, and our helmets. Take a deep breath…it’s time to ride these puppies home again!
I had checked Google Maps and found some alternate routes. There was no inkling as to the condition of these roads. The first victory was that I did not wipeout where I had before, or at all. We took a right turn a little sooner this time and that road was less harrowing. A left and then a right and we were on the lovely bike path. Okay, this could be getting easier – or maybe just less terrifying.
Since then, we’ve made a few round-trips down to the river side of town. Challenges persist amidst the combination of bike paths, crowded rough tile sidewalks, bumpy plazas and busy roadways. My attitude is to take my time and stop whenever I feel I need to. I learned to love both swimming and singing since turning 60. I know I can learn to love biking. I’m not there yet, but I have had moments where I catch myself relaxing enough to enjoy my surroundings. I don’t care what they say, old dogs can learn new tricks!