Here is what it looks like when an adult learns to ride a bike:
Yes, that’s my leg (pictured: giant bruise, lots of dirt. Not pictured: several cuts; other giant bruise). Yes, until yesterday, I did not know how to ride a bike.
I’ll say it again, just so you can gawk: until yesterday, I did not know how to ride a bike.
I’ve shared the story of how such an unnatural thing happened here once before, and, somewhat to my relief, no one commented. Perhaps you were all ashamed on my behalf and wanted to pretend you had never read such a thing. Perhaps you looked the other way politely, to hide how flabbergasted you were. Perhaps you were so wowed by my geometric jumpsuit that you totally forgot to read the bit underneath and are now saying, “What? Robina doesn’t know how to ride a bike?”
That entry was a great leap for me. For a long time, I was much more likely to admit to pretty much anything than I was to admit I didn’t know how to ride a bike. I would own up to any other flaw much more readily; I was more forthcoming about any negative part of my history. Being an adult who cannot ride a bike is, quite simply, just too embarrassing to admit. Even my father, the least athletic person I know, knows how to ride a bike. So for the longest time, I remained a closeted non-bike-rider. I passed for a bike rider, as it were; it’s easy for others to assume you know how because everyone knows how to ride a bike! Everyone.
Or so I thought!
While at Pier 6 for our weekly unschooling meetup with friends earlier this summer, I was given a brochure for Park programs. I flipped through it and was both astounded and excited to see that Bike New York, a non-profit here in the city that partners with the New York City Department of Transportation and other City agencies, was offering free “Learn to Ride” classes for adults and kids. So I went to the website to sign up for a class.
And they were all full.
Apparently, there are hundreds of other adults in New York City who also don’t know how to ride a bike!
That fact was so relieving and comforting that it almost made up for not being able to take a class. Not willing to give up, I wrote them, asking to be put on the wait list for basically every class in the city, some on completely opposite side of the city from me in fact. I was determined. A few days later I received an email back letting me know new sessions had opened up, so I immediately signed up for one, and that is how I found myself at Pier 54 this afternoon.
Now, there is this mythology I hold about myself that’s been very consistent since childhood, although I don’t totally know the origins of it. That mythology is this: Robina is only good at reading books. Robina has no aptitude for anything physical. That mythology has been incredibly formative, stopping me from small things — such as learning to knit (I finally learned in 2009!) — and big things — such as not quitting a PhD program and going to nursing school when I first started feeling the call to midwifery (it took seven years to get out from under that mythology, but here I am!) — alike. So as I walked from the subway in my lesson I had to give myself a bit of a pep talk, which sounded a little something like “There is nothing about you that would make you incapable of doing something millions of other people can do” over and over again.
The students in the class were, amazingly, totally diverse: while it skewed towards women, every racial/ethnic group and age was represented. This was the first thing that made me feel comfortable. The second were the very friendly teachers, especially the cute tattooed one (ahem) who reminded me a lot of a dear friend.
The third thing was that they used the “balance first” approach, which means we first learned to glide on bikes without pedals. Though this was never an approach I had personally tried (in all two times I’ve tried to learn how to ride a bike), but because I have a 4 year old who is a total pro at her balance bike, it was a familiar concept to me. So as everyone began to slowly walk on tippy-toes while straddling the bikes, tentatively putting their feet up, I steeled myself. I thought, “I HAVE to learn how to ride today. I WILL LEARN HOW TO RIDE TODAY. PERIOD.” Then I visualized Jaya on her balance bike. And then I took off.
Now, when I say “took off,” let me explain. Took off does not mean I glided gracefully. Took off means I did a sort of high-speed, extra-waddley Flinestone car maneuver, like my four year old does to pick up speed on her balance bike, and then stuck my feet out like I was flying down a hill. It wasn’t graceful at all, but it was effective: I was one of the first to get pedals put on. It is probably also the reason my legs look like they do.
Learning how to start pedalling was a bit more of a challenge for me; after all, I couldn’t envision my four year old anymore and mimic her. That being said, I sure could visualize the way my husband starts biking, the way his cute ass kind of hovers over the seat when he first kicks off. It’s not like I don’t ogle it, every.single.time he leaves the house on his bike. So, with the imagine ever so clear in my mind, I attempted to replicate that. And, eventually, I got it.
That feeling, of my whole body having to work so hard to get the hang of it, and then having the wind in my hair (or at least, my helmet) as I managed to ride along, doing lap and after lap, was pure magic. I was absolutely and completely high on endorphins, and it was pretty much the best afternoon I’ve had in a long time. I didn’t want to stop. I am so excited that my goal of biking to school in the Fall, is totally attainable now!
Yes, I still have to work on my death grip and keeping my eyes aiming high. Yes, my ass does not feel as cute as my husband’s looks right now.
But I can ride a freaking bike.
I can ride a bike!