Twenty-five is a tough age to first learn to ride a bicycle, especially if you already have a five year old who is, from your motherly perspective, going much too fast on his. My first bicycle, bought at that age, was a Schwinn light purple women’s mountain bike that sold for $99.99 at Target. Since the cost was so high, I hatched a plan to ride the bicycle for one Sunday only and return it for a full refund the following day. It was a stunning summer day — the perfect day to give away my biking virginity. I walked the bike up and down the Nyack boardwalk in Rockland County with the Target tags and instruction kit dangling at the sides, paper circles with information shuffling inside the wheels, the whole thing shaking dangerously from side to side if I tried to mount it. I raised one leg high over the seat and planted it on the other side, walked on my toes while pushing the bike between my thighs, and tried to pedal a few times before falling over. (It would be a while before someone would show me that if you tilt the bike to the side, getting on doesn’t require picking up your leg to your nose and looking like a mad yoga lady in the middle of the street). I rode a little, but also crashed a little, and at the end of the day the Target bike with bent handlebars and mud covered frame was destined to stay mine.
I never rode a bike as a child, because bicycle riding was, of course, one of God’s infinite nos. Even for the boys, for whom the immodesty of raising a foot to the heavens to climb on was not a concern, bikes were absolutely forbidden. They were called shaygetz bikes. There was no female version of the bike; shiksas in the rabbi’s minds didn’t do much besides lure the bikes with their cleavage.
Athleticism for women was not even a concept I had ever heard of. There was no sports program in the girls’ school, and as we approached our mid-teens we were thought too grown up to be very physically active