Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

The headline was a head-scratcher.

“Bicycles are the new toilet paper” it read which, when you consider the mechanics of that image and how panicky we all felt without toilet paper a few months ago, ouch.

But reading on, it started to make sense.

Bike shops are overwhelmed these days, doing nearly twice the business as usual. People without bikes are buying them, and everyone else is pulling the dusty bikes out of the garage and taking them in for tuneups.

Lines of toilet paper seekers outside Costco have been replaced by lines of bike seekers outside bicycle shops. Some in the industry attribute the new demand to the better weather and the desire to break free of the pandemic confines of our homes. Others say workers who must rely on public transit are now looking for a safer way to commute.

Whatever the reason, you’ll see more people on bikes now, particularly out on the trails, where dusty Schwinns are captained by rusty adults who’ve not been on a bike since the training wheels first came off all those decades ago.

You can spot them looping to and fro as they struggle to keep the wheels on the right side of the path. It’s true what they say about never forgetting, but it can take a few wobbly miles to get back in stride. More charming are all the kids on bikes, speeding along now that they’ve broken free of the confines of their driveways and sidewalks. More than once I’ve been run off to the side by kids riding three or four abreast, their heads tucked into helmets sprouting plastic mohawks or Viking horns.

It’s been said cycling is as close as most of us will ever come to flying. When the trail ahead of me is wide open and I’ve found the sweet spot in my gears, I can reach 18 or 20 miles per hour. If not for the helmet, I’d feel the wind in my hair.

On the best days, I’m flying under a canopy of blue sky and white clouds. That first ride after the dark, cloistered months of the early pandemic were a release, a blossoming of air and sunshine and all those purple flowers that escorted me along my first 10-miler.

When the lockdown cut me off from so much of my life – my family, my friends, my workplace – I was sustained by the trail and my bike. For the hours I was out there, I felt almost normal.

For on the trail, the trees don’t know of the turmoil, nor do the chipmunks that run alongside me, or the blue heron fishing in the stream, or the rat snakes that stretch across the trail. Maybe the toddlers riding in cozy trailers behind their parents aren’t aware of the storm, either.

I hope not.

If you’re thinking about buying a bike, good idea. Western Pennsylvania has some beautiful trails that take you through green and blue landscapes without meeting car traffic. You don’t need an expensive bike, but do yourself a favor and get some padded pants. And wear a helmet. Get professionally fitted to the bike if you can; most people set the seat way too low.

And if it’s been a lifetime since you’ve been on a two-wheeler, remember what they say.

Riding a bike is like, um, riding a bike. A few wobbly minutes and you’ll be back at it.

On those two wheels you’ll find freedom – that, and sunshine and flowers, as you fly away from it all.

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