Lime Bikes

Dockless bike-sharing has come to Newton, Massachusetts, which means our neighborhood is dotted with eye-popping green and yellow LimeBikes that people can rent via a smartphone app and then leave anywhere, with no need to return to a central location.

Needham Street Lime Bikes

When the city’s LimeBikes were first deployed, they were seemingly everywhere, prominently placed in front of stores, banks, and City Hall: anywhere people are likely to congregate. Now that people have been (presumably) riding them, the bikes are less visible. Instead of being parked in prominent packs, they now have scattered singly: a bike here and there, parked in front of houses or at residential intersections where riders have left them for their next hire.

Needham Street Lime Bikes

This means my daily dog-walks and routine errands have turned into a kind of Easter egg hunt: where, in a word, will I spot another Limey?

Although it’s been years since I’ve ridden a bike, I used to ride regularly. When I lived in Cambridge in the 1990s, my then-husband and I didn’t have a car, so my chief modes of transportation were my own two feet, the T, and my bike. Back then, I was young and fearless, riding in Cambridge traffic with nothing but a helmet and my own confidence to protect me.

Avalon Lime Bikes

These days, I wince whenever I drive past a cyclist, their bodies seeming so fragile and small. But I remember from my biking days that my sense of personal space was different then: as long as I could find an open area to maneuver my bike and myself, I felt shielded from larger, more lumbering vehicles, zipping in between cars and looking out for my own safety since I (accurately) assumed no one else was looking out for me.

City Hall Lime Bikes

Part of me would love to hop on a LimeBike: is it true when they say you never forget how to ride? But my older, creakier, more settled and sturdy self observes that I don’t have a helmet nor a definite destination: I have no need, in other words, to ride a bike when I can either drive or walk anywhere I’d like to go.

Hyde Playground Lime Bike

Recently, LeBron James explained how having a bike changed his life when he was a poor kid growing up in Akron, Ohio: “If you had a bike, it was a way to kind of let go and be free.” I remember the rush of freedom I felt when I was old enough to ride my bike to the library, pool, or even a movie all by myself. Remembering that breezy freedom of being on two wheels, I wonder whether the sassy confidence of decades past would reappear as soon as I straddled a seat.

Bee on sunflower

Yesterday J and I went to Arnold Arboretum to walk and take pictures: a change from our original plan to go to the Museum of Fine Arts. We changed plans partly because the Red Sox played a day game yesterday—the T from Newton is always packed with Red Sox fans on game days—and partly because yesterday was the last day for the MFA’s popular Samurai exhibit, and we had no desire to fight last-minute crowds queuing to see an exhibit we’d seen back in April. But more than anything, yesterday was a clear, sunny, and mild summer day, and it seemed a shame to waste even a moment of it inside.

Rose mallow

We weren’t alone in our thinking, as the arboretum was alive with picnickers, dog-walkers, and families with strollers. There were children on scooters and children learning to ride bicycles, including one little girl whose pink training wheels lay on the side of the road, castoff, while she walked astride her bike, standing on two feet and crying, afraid to take the next step of actually sitting on the bike and pedaling. “You’re doing great,” I remarked as J and I walked by, figuring every little bit of encouragement would help. It’s a scary step to go from the known stability of training wheels to the wobbly uncertainties a grown-up bike: what felt like an exhilarating rush when you rode with training wheels feels like pure recklessness—far too fast and far too wobbly—when you’re riding without.

Hydrangea

I’ve never taught a child how to ride a bike, but I sometimes feel like I’m doing something similar with my literature and writing students, who sometimes cling to the known security of how they used to write papers back in high school (for my undergraduates) or back in their undergrad days (for my grad students). If you’re comfortable riding with training wheels, trying to ride a bike without them seems a lot less fun, given how much attention you have to pay to things like balance and speed and steering. But once you’ve faced (and cried your way through) the transition to a grown-up bike, you’d never dream of going back, part of the thrill of riding being the way your body eventually finds its own automatic equilibrium. Where once you had to think about steering, eventually your bike seems to know automatically where you want to go, and it goes there.

Golden Rain Tree

This is, ultimately, the place I’d like my lit and writing students to arrive: a place where making an argument—having something to say and then saying it—comes naturally, automatically, the pen on the page (or the fingers on the keyboard) naturally expressing the thoughts in mind. There is a beautiful fluidity in riding a bike or writing a well-argued essay, but balance doesn’t come by accident. Instead, you have to weave and waver and wobble before you can ride (or write) a straight, sensible line. Pedaling a grown-up bike takes a lot of practice, and so does crafting a mature essay. At first you rely heavily upon your training wheels, and eventually you cast them off, the experience of wobbling and even falling being the only way you can learn to trust the equilibrium of your own inner ear.

Click here for more pictures from the Arnold Arboretum: enjoy!