Learning to Ride at 25: An Adult Bike Lesson Success Story
By Caroline Fothergill, IT’S TIME TEXAS Marketing & Communications Manager
If you’re one of the lucky ones who learned how to ride a bike as a small child by simply taking off one day, or via the age old push-em-down-the-hill method, you’ve likely used the analogy “it’s like learning how to ride a bike” approximately one thousand times in your adult life. Meanwhile, I have tested out just as many reactions to people using that analogy, including but not limited to: nodding aggressively in feigned understanding, pretending to fondly reminisce about my many (fantasy) bike riding adventures, and studying my shoelaces. My parents tried to teach me how to ride a bike many times as a kid, but I was the most risk-averse little human, and I was not OK with the idea of being pushed down a hill. I was also quite practical for a toddler, and the physics of balancing on two thin wheels like that just didn’t make sense to me. I went through my youth faking sick when friends invited me on bike rides. As an adult I had become pretty open about it, often using not knowing how to ride a bike as a self-deprecating fun fact in icebreaker situations, but deep down, I always wanted to learn.
In the New Year, I finally felt ready and made learning to ride a bike my big resolution. I knew if any of my friends or family tried to teach me it would not only be unsuccessful but also potentially ruin our relationship, so I Googled adult bike riding lessons. I was surprised to find that the non-profit Bike Austin offers one-on-one adult lessons, and REI offers group lessons for all ages. I contacted Bike Austin and heard back within a week from an instructor, Frances, who shared my availability in the evenings. We scheduled our first lesson for the following week and I considered canceling it at least ten times a day, but I didn’t. I had resolved to do this and I was sticking to it!
Frances and I met in a big church parking lot for our first lesson. She is a music teacher and brilliant violinist with wild hair and a quirky, yet soothing personality. She pulled something strange out of the trunk of her car to start our first lesson: a little green bike with no pedals. A “balance bike,” I soon learned, helps you get comfortable engaging your core and finding your balance on two wheels while still having the comfort of your feet on the ground. Frances had me practice pushing off with my feet and keeping them off the ground for as long as I could, coasting down very mild hills in the parking lot. After an hour that flew by, Frances handed me a little report card with the skills we’d practiced checked off. Even adults need and deserve report cards to hang on the fridge when tackling a phobia, and that’s exactly what I did.
I graduated from the balance bike to a bike with pedals, still with the seat lowered, after two lessons. We worked on starting and stopping properly, still coasting without actually pedaling. I am extremely petite at 5 feet tall on the dot, so I learned on a youth-sized WOOM bike with a women’s seat on it! I found myself truly enjoying these lessons. Looking forward to them, even. I started pedaling in lesson four, with the seat still low and my feet still able to reach the ground. By my fifth lesson, with the seat still lowered slightly, I was riding a bike without being able to touch my feet to the ground. This included starting (the piece of the process that has always baffled me the most,) pedaling both down and uphill, turning, and coming to controlled stops. All this in five hours worth of lessons with a patient, encouraging teacher who went at my pace and never pushed me to do anything I wasn’t ready for. I am proof that learning how to ride a bike doesn’t require any form of pushing.
I am now the proud owner of my very own retro cruiser! Next week, Frances and I are taking it from the parking lot to a calm road to practice more controlled turning, signaling, and biking around other people. I feel so liberated by this experience and haven’t felt uncomfortable at any point in the process. I see the cost of these lessons ($40 per hour) and my new bike as an investment in a healthy hobby that can save me gas money, help save the planet, and will allow me to see more of my home city and the places I visit in a unique, healthy way. Bicycles were truly my biggest fear; I saw them as evil handle-horned, two-eyed monsters until a few months ago. I am still a little shaky and don’t feel comfortable riding with others, but I get better every time I practice! I truly believe that if I can do this, anyone can.
If you have questions about my learning experience, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a skilled biker and fancy yourself a patient and encouraging teacher, do yourself and your neighbors a favor and get certified to teach adult bike riding lessons! I only found two groups offering these lessons in Austin, a big bicycling city, so I doubt they are available everywhere in the state. Had I not found Frances, I never would have learned to ride. Here’s to conquering our fears, and to getting more Texans on two wheels!