Learning to ride a bike is a childhood milestone and all children enjoy riding bikes. Many people believe that statement to be true but I am not one of them. Yes I, somewhat unwillingly, learned to ride a bike when I was about 6 years old. My younger sister was already a bike expert speeding around the neighbourhood and my father was insistent that I would learn too.
With an awful lot of coaxing I eventually did manage to wobble around on a bike but I never really enjoyed the experience. Every time my sister got a new bigger, fancier bike she was thrilled. My father would offer to get me one too – ‘Please don’t’ I would say – but he did. Maybe he was hoping some day I would be ‘normal’ but probably he just didn’t realize that my quiet demeanor hid the torture I felt when forced to ride a bike.
I have very few fond childhood memories of bike riding excursions. I do remember crashing, falling, and jumping off my bike. Yes, there were many, many times that I purposely chose to jump off a moving bicycle because landing in a ditch seemed to be a better choice than staying on the seat.
A friend recently suggested maybe I don’t like things with wheels – she knows I don’t enjoy driving a car either. I do drive – when I have to (and I’m much better at driving a car than riding a bike) – but I’ll never turn down a ride if someone else wants to drive. Likewise, if walking is an option, I will always choose to walk. I think maybe I feel so uncomfortable when driving or riding because I am disconnected from the earth.
In the last few years my husband has begun to join me on hiking adventures – this has been wonderful because he is willing to drive to distant trails that I have not had to opportunity to explore before. Often on our hikes he would remark ‘This would be a great trail to bike on if you had a bike’ and I would reply ‘No,no it would not’. *Shudder*
My husband enjoys biking much more than hiking so eventually I relented and agreed to get a bike so we could occasionally go biking together. He was much more excited than I was, checking out all the store flyers and bike displays, pointing out various features of each model. My main concern was ensuring I’d still be able to touch the ground when I was on the bike.
Finally he picked one out and went to get it on his day off work. I was in the back yard with the children when he came home and unloaded it from the car. As he wheeled it through the yard all the children oohed and awed and excitedly asked ‘Cheryl, whose bike is that?’ ‘Mine’ I replied without much enthusiasm. ‘Are you going to ride it?’ ‘Not right now.’ It had been more than 25 years since I last rode a bike. They say you don’t forget how to ride but I had my doubts especially since I was never very good at it and I’ve tried very hard to forget.
Later that week I tried a few practice rides up and down our back lane – cue fits of laughter. When I reached the end of the lane I got off the bike, picked it up and turned it around to head back. My husband/coach yelled down the lane ‘You don’t need to get off to turn around, the lane is wide enough, just keep pedaling and turn the wheel.’ Seriously? I would need the lane to be four times that wide before I’d make it all the way around without falling.
On the weekend we packed the bikes in to the van to drive to a nice, paved, car-free bike path. I think I did a bit better. There were only a few times that considered jumping off and even then I just put my feet on the ground and skidded to a stop. Yes, sometimes when I panic I forget the bike has brakes.
Periodically my husband/coach would point out something interesting in the area surrounding the trail. I’d reply, ‘Can’t look, trying to stay upright’. Sometimes he’d suggest something new for me to ‘try’ – like standing on the pedals etc. ‘Nope, don’t want to die today’.
It’s frustrating, I imagine that is how children feel when asked to move on to the next new skill/task when they just want to continue at the level they are currently at for a little longer. What’s the rush, they’ll move on when they decide they are ready. Pushing too hard or too soon might make them quit completely.
My bike ride was certainly not a stellar performance. In fact, even my FitBit failed to recognize it as anything. It will auto-recognize a trip around the block at toddler speed as a ‘walk’. It will auto-recognize a walk with a stroller as an ‘outdoor bike ride’. However, my first afternoon bike excursion left it confused – it had no idea what to call that. A three-year-old, without training wheels, stopped his bike on the side of the trail to watch me -silently. Other people I’m certain went home with stories to tell their friends and family.
Still, I rode my new bike on my terms – when, where, and how I wanted and most importantly, I will do it again. I will never be an expert rider. Biking on trails will never replace hiking on trails but it is an interesting change of pace.