Life is hard. Even when things are going well, daily living requires a lot of effort—as a response to our own demands, needs, and expectations or those of other people. When you are retired, the demands slacken and you have more control over your time. But if you’re anything at all like me, you might actually miss the good old days when you had to show up somewhere every morning at 8 a.m. Without effort, there’s no payoff.
For many retirees, it’s easy to follow the path of least resistance, sleeping too much and accomplishing too little. The farther down that path you go, the more susceptible you are to depression. We all need a reason to stay awake, and we need people to validate us. Loneliness is a serious health problem among the elderly. Studies have shown that the risk of premature death from loneliness equals that from smoking.
Since my lung-cancer diagnosis a few months ago, loneliness is the least of my worries. For one thing, my friends and family have treated me like royalty. For another, I’m aware of the dangers of isolation, so I make more phone calls and schedule more outings. And finally, between doctors, nurses, and chemo, I have too many appointments to get lonely.
So instead of being solitary, my days are cluttered and disorganized. Now, when time is more precious than ever, I don’t treasure it the way I ought to. My meditation practice is spotty, as is my church attendance. I’m not as useful as I’d like to be, to humankind in general and to my friends and family in particular. I spend little or no time in natural surroundings. The only exercise I get is when I’m forced to walk up and down the single flight of stairs between my individual apartment door and the main front door.
In part, whoever stole my electric bike is to blame for this sorry state of affairs. I had a nifty Cyclamatic CX2 folding electric bike until someone sawed through the cable lock and made off with the bike while I was in the hospital last month. I had relied on the Cyclamatic to transport me when I wanted to run errands, visit friends, get a little exercise, and enjoy some fresh air, plus it was just a whole lot of fun to ride. I could adjust the power level to determine how much effort I wanted to expend, so I could zip up hills without breaking a sweat or I could power down and elevate my heart rate.
The problem was that I had to keep the bike outside. It was securely locked—or so I thought—and was practically invisible from the street, but it was still vulnerable. The bike could be folded to fit in small spaces, but it weighed 57 pounds—much more than I could manhandle up and down a flight of steps.
Since I acquired the Cyclamatic, I’ve seen Amazon listings for e-bikes weighing as little as 25 pounds. These, too, are foldable. The sensibly priced ones cost $400 to $600, plus $100 for assembly. The sturdiest lock I could find is priced at $150, though I wouldn’t need to secure the bike outside if it weighed only 25 pounds. I might have to do some arm-strengthening exercises, but I think I could manage a 25-pound two-wheeled vehicle.
I’m considering crowd-funding the whole shebang—e-bike, assembly, lock, a basket for “cargo,” and a better helmet than my old one, plus tax. That comes to a total of about a thousand dollars. I’ve never crowd-funded anything before. It feels a little tacky, asking strangers to pay for something that was taken from me in part due to my own carelessness. On the other hand, it’s the only way I’m going to get a replacement for my beloved e-bike, so I should probably get over my squeamishness and just do it.
There’s an elephant in the room, and it’s called “life expectancy.” Am I likely to live long enough to get my money’s worth? And how long am I going to have the energy and optimism I have today? Not very long, I’m thinking, if I make every decision as if I’m going to pop off in a week or two. So I think I’ll get the bike—to improve the present and as an investment in the future. And if I’m right about Heaven, it’s lousy with e-bikes. No golden chariots on the other side of the pearly gates. Just electric bikes, lined up neatly and waiting for angels with weary wings to hop on.
Item for your to-do list:
—Buy an electric bike.
They’re not cheap, and you can’t buy an old, beat-up–but–serviceable one at a flea market. You’ll probably have to spend well over $500 for a new e-bike (mine was $700 on Amazon), but an excellent bicycle without the power assist can cost much more. If you’re going to buy a high-dollar bike you might as well get one that will let you sail up hills with ease and panache.
I love my e-bike. It’s my primary transportation, so I use it to run errands, to go to church, to visit friends…. People who aren’t aware it’s an electric bike are awestruck when they see a 70-year-old cyclist take steep hills without breaking a sweat. At least I imagine that’s what they’re gaping at. Maybe it’s my dorky fuschia bike helmet, but I prefer to think it’s my astounding athleticism.
‘Twas not ever thus. When I first got the contraption last fall, I kept falling off. Early in the day, when there weren’t many people about, I’d take it across the street, where there’s a giant parking lot, and I’d practice, and practice, and practice… and fall off. My knees kept hitting the handlebars and knocking me off the bike onto the ground. I tried raising and lowering the seat, but it didn’t seem to matter. After three weeks, my legs were covered with scrapes and bruises, and I wasn’t getting any better.
One November morning I took a harder-than-usual spill. Flummoxed and discouraged, wondering if I was ever going to get the hang of it, I sat on the hard, cold concrete next to the bike for five minutes or so, trying not to weep. A few kindly motorists stopped and asked if I needed help. “Thanks, I’m fine,” I sniffled, but it was a lie. The truth was, I was running out of weather suitable for bike-riding, and I wasn’t any closer to success than when I’d taken my first turn around the lot. Besides, the e-bike had been a gift from a friend concerned about my sedentary, solitary lifestyle. Bad enough that I had a $700 bike I couldn’t use. How could I tell my generous benefactor that his thoughtful contribution to my mental health was battering my body and annihilating my self-esteem?
At last I took a deep breath, stood up, and hauled my 57-pound bike to an upright position for the eighth or ninth time that morning. Right away I noticed that something was different. The controls weren’t where they’d been before I splatted. Instead of the power controller being on the right and the gear-shift knob on the left, their positions were reversed.
In a flash, I understood. The entire front assembly—the wheel, the handlebars, the brake levers—had turned 180 degrees when the bike hit the ground. Suddenly, magically, everything was in the correct position. I’d been riding the bike with the front part turned the wrong way ‘round. No wonder my knees had been hitting the handlebars and knocking me ass-over-teakettle.
I laughed out loud. I might have done a happy dance. Then I hopped on the bike and rode home. I haven’t fallen off since that morning. Problem solved.
Why hadn’t I figured it out earlier? Because I’ve never had a bike that would allow the front wheel and handlebars to be reversed in such a way. On all my old bikes, you could turn the apparatus only so far—maybe 120 degrees—before it would bump into the frame and refuse to turn farther. Besides, the handlebars were always bent or curved inward toward the rider on the older bikes. On my e-bike, the handlebars stick straight out to the sides. There’s nothing that screams “front!”
I’m still far from being an expert rider. I’m leery of busy streets, none of which have bike lanes. I don’t know how to use the gears to best advantage, and if I’m riding up a steep hill and I have to stop for some reason, it’s hard to get going again. I had one such experience on the way to a doctor appointment, and I ended up turning around and going home. But with every excursion I grow more adept. It’s the end of April; I have an entire summer to build my strength and confidence, and to find bargains on stuff like thermal underwear and goggles so that I can ride year-round, as long as the roads aren’t slick or snow-covered.
By the way, mine is a pedal-assist model. That means the motor won’t kick in unless I pedal. There are three power levels, so I can choose how much work I want to do and how much I want to rely on the motor. It’s up to me how much exercise I get.
If you’re thinking of getting a second car, consider an e-bike instead. It’s kinder to the environment, it’s a practical form of exercise, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Look for one that’s not as heavy as mine. If I had a 25-pound e-bike, I could probably lug it up the stairs into my apartment. Not happening with one that’s over half my body weight.
A tiny grammar lesson
Some grammar-and-style experts advise against ending a sentence with a preposition. Surely you’ve heard the famous comment (mistakenly attributed to Winston Churchill), “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”
I’m reminded of the joke about the guy who asked his friend, “Where do you want to have lunch at?” The friend replied, “Don’t end a sentence with a preposition.” Guy Number One said, “Okay. Where do you want to have lunch at, a**hole?”
The same experts don’t like to begin a paragraph with the word I. In fact, they’d rather you not start too many sentences with I. Well, I agree that a series of sentences starting with I can be tiresome. But if you’re writing about yourself, your experiences, or your opinions, it’s natural to begin sentences with I. Sometimes you can easily rearrange a sentence, inserting an introductory clause or phrase as I did a number of times in this essay. Sometimes you can’t.
I wouldn’t worry about it.