GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND — On our island the heat begins to leave about 30 minutes before sunset, taking with it the color of most things, depositing it in the clouds, it seems, which turn from threatening and dark to the hues favored by hip designers. I'm sure this happens in many places, but it seems special here. This time of day is my favorite for pleasure biking.
My bike is a Royal Enfield 10-speed, bright red, with a Sears speedometer that read 897 miles this morning. That's 5 1/2 months' riding.
On the Upswing
My pedals have toe clips with leather straps. Clips, I was told, make your legs work on the upswing, increasing your pedaling efficiency by about 30%. They make you look very serious, too. But toe clips grip very tightly, and at stop signs, when I needed to drop my foot to the ground to keep from falling over, my toes would stick, and I would fall, in slow motion, to the ground.
My clips are now for show.
I usually ride for about 45 minutes. Grand Bahama's infrastructure--broad, four-lane avenues and hundreds of miles of other roads and canals--was designed to support half a million people. Since only 40,000 live here permanently, biking along most major roads is pleasant, and the biking along the smaller roads--many running close to the beach and through stands of casuarinas, banyans and palms--is dreamlike at this hour.
Along what I call my "A" route, the most handsome route, cocoa plum bushes are now being staked out by all of us regular bikers and walkers.
The fruit, about the size of a ping-pong ball, has an enormous seed and only the smallest bit of flesh, but when the flesh turns soft and the skin reddish pink, the taste is exotic and sweet, like cotton candy in its sugary elusiveness.
Doomed to a Short Life
All this good taste dooms cocoa plums to a short but purposeful life, and quarrels over plucking rights at a particular plum bush can become vegetarian versions of California gold-rush disputes.
My method of collecting is called hit and run. I pick just a few plums from each bush, dropping them down my shirt, then move on before any alleged proprietor can catch me. If my strategy works, I look pregnant before the ride is over.
Late in the season, when the easy pickings are over, we all go much farther on the unpaved back roads of Grand Bahama--the prettiest parts of the island--and bring out large bags of plums.
Going toward the east end, the best plum areas lie along the deserted beach road to Old Freetown. Bushes here are jungle-thick. The plums seem meatier, and the flesh tastes unusually sweet, especially if you're lying on your back under a palm on an isolated beach.
Bikes will only get you to the beginning of this road, incidentally, for it quickly turns to very fine, deep sand. At that point, we hide our wheels in the brush and start walking or, if the tide is low and the moon right, speed along the densely packed sand at the water's edge.
Whether I'm riding for my own pleasure at twilight or pedaling the 12-mile round trip to the gym at top speed, biking is one of the best aerobic exercises because it works large muscles continuously and rhythmically, requirements for any good aerobic work. It's also non-weight-bearing--a nice break for my joints. For yours, too, if biking sounds like your kind of exercise.
Slowly and Safely
For meaningful aerobic exercise, you should bike at least three times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes. At first, don't try to win races. Bike slowly and safely. Even if you're simply pumping away for a little slow-motion touring, you are doing yourself some good.
As your stamina increases, work harder. You can determine your target heart rate yourself, but, if you are really new to exercise, ask your librarian to point you to a good book with the method for determining your rate, such as any of the books written by Dr. Kenneth Cooper.
Stationary bikes, incidentally, are recommended by many exercise specialists and can be safer than moving ones (not many people worry about traffic in their living rooms). But they can bore you to death. Place your bike in front of a television or learn to read as you pedal.
Make a Careful Choice
When you choose a bike, stationary or otherwise, you should be careful about what you buy. Try it out. The bike should be sturdy and comfortable for you. Read Consumer Reports and other unbiased sources to check on a specific bike's rating. Finally, take a real bike on a test ride before you buy. Make sure that you choose the right type (touring, racing, beach, mountain) and the right size for your frame and objectives.
And when you're aerobically in shape, you can come to Grand Bahama for a day of biking and cocoa plums. Airlines will ship your bike for about $25, if you call ahead and reserve a bicycle box.
"Body Worry" chronicles the weekly progress of a bald, overweight man who, in the course of one year, tries to transform himself into a "hunk."
Beginning 23rd Week Waist: 43 inches 35 inches Right biceps: 12 3/4 inches 12 5/8 inches Flexed: 13 inches 13 3/8 inches Weight: 201 pounds 175 pounds Height: 6-feet-1 Blood pressure: 128/68 120/68 Pulse: 64 62 Bench press: 55 125 Hunk factor: .00 .33