Wednesday, June 9, 2010

35-Year-Old Learns To Ride A Bike, Or Dies Trying

Hi, I'm JT and I never learned ride a bike.

Every single time I utter those words they are greeted with shock and gasps.
  • "How could that have happened?!?!"  
  • "WHY?!?!  What tragic event kept you from this essential childhood rite of passage?!?!"  
  • "Oh!  The humanity!"
Nothing happened.

I grew up in the city.  I lived on a really steep hill that wasn't all that conducive to learning to ride.  It lead to a major intersection under the "L" (elevated train, for the non-city folks).  I also lived in a pretty bad neighborhood and my folks were protective. Being in a small apartment with no place to keep a bike didn't help either.  My brother learned but he was older than I before we moved back to the city.

So, I am 35-years-old and trying to learn to ride a bike.

Why start now, you ask?  Well,  I've got these two tiny people in my house that are growing up quickly and learning to ride bikes of their own.   We live in the country but, once again, on a steep gravel drive that leads to a major road.  There is no place for the munchkins to ride so, I figure, someone has to take them some place to ride. That someone is me.   

I have visions of taking them to a bike path and hollering as I trot behind them, "Okay, don't go too far!  Please come back!  Stay where mom can see you!"  Not going to happen.

So, I am trying to learn.

I started about a month ago.  My dear friend offered to teach me so I got a helmet and borrowed a bike and off we went.  I felt like a giant idiot having him hold my seat and give me the same encouragement one would give to a 5-year-old.  

  • "You've got it!"  
  • "There you go!"
  • "You're doing it ALL BY YOURSELF!!!"

He was very patient and very sweet but I had to fire him to maintain whatever semblance of integrity I had left which wasn't much.

If I were to venture out on my own, I'd need a bike of my own.  I didn't want to make a huge investment in something I'm not sure I can master so I picked up a bike at a yard sale for $20.  It's about 2 inches too tall for me, squeaks like it's crying and likely made entirely of lead.  Perfect.

I've attempted to ride three times on my own now.  

The first time was still on the loaner bike and wasn't too bad.  I almost quit after about 15 minutes but instead gave myself a mental spanking and said "CHILDREN DO THIS!"  I managed to stay upright, about as steady as Bambi's first time on new legs, for about 15 feet.  It was about 200% humidity that day and I got back to my office as sweat as a teamster but I consider it a victory.

The second time was on the new, lead bike, in my driveway.  Remember that steep gravel drive I mentioned and how it isn't conducive to riding?  Well, I should have heeded my own advice.  I fell on my ass almost instantly and Two-Ton Tessie (that's my bike!) fell on my leg leaving me with 4 technicolor bruises from my inner thigh to my calf.  I looked extra pretty in a skirt that week.

The third time was today.  I took Tess out to the same spot I had my prior victorious 15-foot ride, only this time there was construction near by.  Fabulous.  I spent the entire time worrying that the roofers were going to record me on their camera phones and post it on YouTube.  They may have.  Only time will tell.   Being a grown woman, wearing a helmet and struggling with a skill that is mastered easily by kindergartners all over the globe,  I can only hope they thought I was mentally challenged.  That would make me courageous instead of a giant spaz.

I wrestled with Tessie for about 25 minutes this go-round.  I kept giving myself mini-goals such as "just make it to that bench" or "just make it to that tree".  At one point my brain exclaimed "TO the tree not INTO the tree."  I now know how to brake successfully.  I had moderate success in that I didn't fall on my ass again and I peddled for about 30 feet before I had to keep myself from falling.

Some say this experience is enriching and that it builds character.  Others say I should give up and get a Segway.  

I'm on the fence.  

On the one hand, I really want to be able to ride with my kids.  On the other, I hate doing this.  Not because I care what people think.  Truly, I don't.   I think it's amusing and makes for good blog material, if nothing else.  It's more because I don't enjoy doing anything I can't do well.   I know that I have to practice in order to be able to do it well, but I hate the journey to get there, especially if I'm not certain I will ever really be good at it.  I am naturally clumsy and was born, tragically, without a sense of balance so I am fighting the current on this one.

I must say that I have learned a few things from this experience:
  1. Adult Training Wheels are not called Training Wheels, they are called Stabilizer Wheels.  I think it's supposed to help the buyer not feel like a complete tool bag for not being able to balance.   That's nice of them. 
  2. Stabilizer Wheels cost nearly $200.  Damn!
  3. A heavy bike makes it easier to get momentum.
  4. A heavy bike also makes it easier to fall down because if you tip you've got to keep up your weight and the bike's weight.
  5. I don't look good in a helmet.

I think I'll keep at it for a little while longer and see how I manage.  I'm not beat yet but I'm just not sure how much more "character building" I can take.  I hope my kids appreciate what I'm doing for them.  Either we'll all laugh about it one day while we are out on a leisurely family bike ride or they can mention it in my eulogy after I smash into a tree.


  1. i want some of those stabilizers! those are cool and would ride all the time if i had them. i am the one running behind yelling dont go too far too. i dont ride a bike because of the fear of falling off. keep it up jt!

  2. You can do it Jean, keep trying... why not go to a parking lot or huge open area where you can just get down?

    Once you get it, you got it. It something you will be able to do forever.

    Your missing out if you don't. You can have a really great time riding on the rail trail especially if they finish the next couple miles.