Going for the guilt: The exercise bike is gathering dust

February 08, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

Like many of you, I own an exercise bike. It is in the basement. We have a very nice basement, I'm told. One of those cheery clubrooms with lots of posters on the walls. There's a pool table, I think.

If it sounds like I'm doing this from memory, it's because I haven't been in the basement for going on three years.

I stay away because I can't face the bike.

Let's just say, I'd rather look at Rush Limbaugh naked.

Here's the deal on the exercise bike. You have only two options, both of them terrifying.

One, you actually get on the thing. In my active exercise-bike period -- officially April 23-26, 1991, on alternate days, averaging 20 minutes a ride if you include the doughnut breaks -- I pedaled madly until I reached the point, like Emily Litella, I thought I was gonna die.

In fact, we once had a hamster who died in mid-stroke while on the wheel. I thought that was enough grief for one family.

Two, you don't get on. In which case you get this overwhelming case of the guilts. It's not the same kind of guilt you feel after punching down a bacon double-cheeseburger. That's the guilt associated with sin. The good guilt.

The good guilt is when you can actually feel the cholesterol building skyscrapers in your veins. In other words, it's the kind of guilt that brings a secret smile to your face.

The bike is different.

Bike-guilt is the kind born of sloth.

It's knowing that your life is wasting away and that all your personal growth is limited to your waistline.

It's knowing that the reminder of your sloth lies in wait at the bottom of the stairs.

But even that wouldn't be so bad were it not for the investment involved. I didn't get just any kind of exercise bike. I got one with all the bells and flashers. Nothing but the best for this cowboy. The bike, if memory serves, has the works -- it does everything from monitoring your pulse to computer-selling your stocks.

Of course, in the years since I bought the bike, there have been many advancements in the personal-exercise field, none of which involve simply doing sit-ups in the bedroom.

There was the rowing machine. I know a friend who bought one. He now says he doesn't get the concept of rowing on land. The rowing machine is now drydocked in his basement.

Another friend has a NordicTrack. You figure a NordicTrack would make an excellent fit this winter, which has been especially nordic. (I have two questions concerning the weather: Whatever happened to global warming? And what can we do to get it back?)

This machine, it turns out, is about as winter-friendly as the Baltimore County snow removal team. So, it sits there in his basement. Snug and warm and unused.

Here's something that puzzles me: Why does all this equipment try to suggest that the exerciser is actually going someplace?

In fact, you either bike, row or cross-country ski in place. You go nowhere. It's a sad approximation of the real thing, wherein you might actually have some contact with civilization. Of course, maybe it is better to exercise while watching TV. Looking at Willard Scott trying to see his shoes over his belt gives one incentive.

I don't want to make it sound as if I'm not handling this problem. I'm actually handling it quite well.

That's because things could be much worse.

I could have joined a health club.

Now, there are two ways to join a health club. There's my wife's way. She pays her money. And she goes there to exercise.

Then there's the way everyone else I know does it.

You pay your money. You go once. OK, you go twice. Then . . it's like putting the bike in the basement except every month they want another $39.99 and you've signed up for two years, and now your only options are to continue to pay for something you never will use again or to leave the country.

You've seen these poor souls. They always say: "Next week, I'm going. Definitely."

I've got this one friend who goes as far to say, "I'll give you $10 if I don't go by Monday."

I've collected a few 10-dollar bills by now.

By the end of the two years, I may collect enough to pay off the bike.

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