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Friday Slide Show: The Bike Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

7 August 2015

Learning to ride a bike is right up there with learning to read, to swim and to type among the fundamental skills we are happy to have acquired in our youth, when we were paying attention.

The Bike. After a few miles.

We learned to read at our mother's side, looking over the words in the children's books she would read to us. We can still remember the light bulb going off when we realized 't' 'h' 'e' was a word and one we knew pretty well. No stopping us after that.

Swimming was outsourced to the Marines Memorial Club where Dad took us on Saturday mornings when some skinny ex-Marine sergeant would bark orders to us that ricochetted off the tile walls around the pool, making them as incoherent as they seemed implausible. That's where we learned to hold our breath.

And typing was something we taught ourself, mastering the art of teaching ourselves at the same time. Mom had some secretarial books full of typing lessons and we tore right through those on Dad's portable Underwood (a gift from Mom). We remember the battle we waged as if it were yesterday. "STOCKTON, The Largest Inland Port," was the title of our third grade report, filled with data from the Chamber of Commerce. We typed that phrase maybe two dozen times before we got it right, inadvertently learning the value of persistence.

But learning to ride a bike was different.


We'd been given one as a present. A red one just the right height for us at what we recall must have been age five, which would have been about when we were first ready to leave home.

Years later, when we attended the University of California at Berkeley, we hotrodded it, outfitting it with butterfly handlebars and a banana seat so we could do a wheelie and scoot up the hill to class from our remodeled garage apartment on Blake St.

But in the beginning it sported four wheels instead of two. The extra two wheels were training wheels with red hubs that were bolted to the rear axle, one on each side.

You couldn't fall over if you were pushed by a gang of jealous little brothers.

But the day came when it was time to take them off and really learn to ride. We walked the bike down the driveway as our little brothers assembled themselves into a group of innocent bystanders.

We mounted the bike and started pedaling as Dad held onto the seat to keep us upright, trotting alongside just slightly behind us as we wobbled down the deserted sidewalk.

We kept falling over.

Over and over again, down the sidewalk and back up, we pedaled with the concentration of a condemned man, absorbing advice from Dad in one ear and something we took for encouragement from our little brothers in the other. But we just kept falling over.

Inevitably, Dad managed to keep us upright for one full leg of the trip. We turned around to celebrate with him -- but he wasn't there. He was still back at the start of the leg.

We had managed to keep our balance all on our own.


These days we get out of our chair now and then when the weather is promising and hop on a mountain bike that we also received as a gift.

Our New Bike. The Nikon Coolpix 990 image of us on the new bike was 'shopped into a thank-you photo. No wheelies any more, though.

We sail down the hill to Golden Gate Park and down to the Great Highway, circling back home via Sloat and Portola. Or grind our way up Twin Peaks to do some laps before flying back down the rutted roadway. Or dip and dunk our way around Mount Davidson.

It beats walking, which feels like a contact sport. And it beats gardening, which seems to find new muscles to strain every time we bend over.

In fact, cycling gives us the illusion of having retained some unspent youth. Our heart pumps, our lungs fill, our legs bulge to get up the hills. Then we roll back down with a grace we no longer possess on our feet. Sometimes we swerve back and forth just for the hell of it.

The other day when we were putting the bike back in its stand (the very same model that Robin Williams used, the salesman told us after we bought it), we noticed a little rust on the brake cable. As we cleaned it up, we thought we ought to photograph our metallic silver machine before it became just another memory.


We grabbed the iPhone 6 Plus and got down to ground level, coming in close with Ben Rice McCarthy's free Obscura phone app, for some detail. Some very grungy detail warmed up with the Coda filter in Obscura.

If you look close you can barely make us out in the chrome and the highlights, reflecting our red shirt. Otherwise the cloudy day made for some nearly monochromatic images.

We thought the iPhone images would be something more like sketches that would inspire better photos with a nicer camera but we liked them. They were more than snapshots. They captured something more than just the bike.

We used the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop CC 2015.0.1 (as it calls itself) to punch up the Clarity and reveal a little shadow detail. There was no saving the highlights of the metallic silver paint, though. When we liked the effect, we saved the settings to apply the same treatment to each image.

Then we ran them through Alien Skin's Exposure 7 to add a border (Damage 7) which we flipped and flopped for a different look on each image.


But four images?

When we first got the bike, we took a larger series of images in our role as Proud New Owner. We're more articulate with a camera now, apparently. These four cover it.

Four may not be a lucky number is some corners of the world, but at Photo Corners four is the highest rating you can get. And four of a kind beats a triptych any day. So we stuck with the four.

Then it occurred to us to lay them out like tiles in a group. We really did like being able to see all four at once. You can tell the bike has been used. And survived. It should make a nice print (for the garage, anyway).

The Bike. What that expensive photo ink is for.

We've never had to lay this bike down like the red one we learned on. After that magical moment when Dad let us charge off on our own we've somehow kept going without ever falling over.

Probably because we still believe he's holding us up, somehow.

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