There are things in this world that are best learned as a child. Riding a bike is one of them. I am turning 30 this year and I only just learned how to ride a bike in December of 2012 in San Diego. I’d been “learning” on and off for a while but in December is when I learned the whole balancing and turning (both directions). I have 2 older sisters, and none of us learned how to ride a bike. It’s not that I’m the youngest and my parents lost the energy to teach me…it’s that none of the Moy daughters learned.
My husband is an avid bike rider and we have a lot of friends that are. Even though London is a big city, the opportunities to bike ride are more. Hyde Park is a 15 minute walk away (soon to be 2 minutes when we move!) and there are all types of parks and commons to explore. It’s definitely more of a cycling friendly atmosphere.
After I learned how to ride in December, we decided that I would get a bike here in London. I have to admit, I was really excited at first at the prospect of going on bike rides with Joe. We could go to Hyde Park, Richmond Park (pretty much any of the Royal Parks), take bike trips to English towns, cycle on European holidays…it seemed like the opportunities were endless! So we got me a mountain bike and the whole thing began.
The first weekend of gorgeous summer weather was the weekend that we got my bike. We decided to head down to Hyde Park on a Sunday afternoon….bad idea. It was absolutely rammed with people. For someone who is learning how to ride, people, bikes, children and dogs running around in all different directions is the most stressful thing on the planet. Not only was I afraid for my own safety, I didn’t want to hit anyone or anything. My palms were constantly sweaty and they kept slipping off the handlebars. This was also the trip that I learned how to mount the bike properly. Little did I know that most cyclists’ seats are higher up so that when you stop, you can’t just sit there and put your foot down, you have to stand up, take your butt off the seat and then step down. If you’ve been riding a bike your whole life (even if it’s just recreationally) you might think “Uhhh, yeah Deb… of course. That’s how everyone does it.” You wouldn’t be alone either. My husband was in that camp as well. So, he raises my seat height and I immediately have issues. I can’t stand up on my bike. I can barely balance riding the bike let alone stand up. Then there’s the mounting the bike. Pushing off on one foot, standing and getting your butt on the seat…this was a painful lesson. I had issues keeping my handlebars straight, getting enough of a running start and I kept scraping my legs up with the bike pedals. Thankfully, after a few painful tries, I was able to get going without too much hassle. It was during this particular visit to the park that I thought I would want a “learner” sign on the front and back of my bike so that people knew to avoid me.
We probably biked once or twice again in Hyde Park after that, and each time, dismounting was a serious issue. I just couldn’t figure out how to stop without tipping over…so I did running dismounts where I kind of just hopped off. I was also still quite wobbly and I couldn’t quite figure out why. The theory was that perhaps my handlebars were too short but it was hard to be sure. A couple weeks ago, we tried to go out to Richmond Park. From Hammersmith tube stop, you can walk and meet the path by the Thames River. There’s a trail there that leads to Richmond park after a few miles. Richmond Park is gorgeous. Joe has ridden out there a few times and he’s taken photos of the wide fields, the nice trails and the deer that like to roam around. I thought it’d be a fun way to ride a longer distance. The Thames River path was nice…but it was bumpy, there were quite a few other cyclists, walkers, runners and people taking their pets out for a gambol. My stress levels still increase when people are around. My inability to dismount was becoming a seriously problem and I had a close call where I almost hit this mother and son who were out walking. I basically braked really hard right next to her and said “Oh shoot!” and it scared her half to death. She was super nice about it (it probably helped that I didn’t physically injure her).
We eventually made our way back but it involved a bit of a tantrum from me. It may or may not have included foot stamping and the words “I don’t want to do this any more”…
We got longer handlebars for my bike and took it out today. I was much more stable and confident. I even learned how to dismount (yay!). It’s still not the smoothest, but it’s a lot better than it was. I still get nervous when there are people around because I’m still learning control, but the variables are fewer. If you’re a new adult bike rider, I feel your pain. I see these little kids riding around without a care in the world and I feel jealous. They have it so easy! Don’t take for granted that riding a bike is easy because as a new rider…take my word for it…it’s hard.
Thankfully, after this whole experience, my patient husband has a better understanding of what it’s like to teach someone how to ride a bike. For people who have been riding their whole life, there are certain small things that are taken for granted when it comes so naturally to them from a young age. Hopefully some of these tips will help:
- Balancing doesn’t come as naturally as you think
- The road to becoming comfortable on a bike is longer than just 1 day
- Don’t throw too many variables at the newbie such as “we’re going up a hill, make sure you downshift…but don’t downshift when you’re pedalling too hard or else it’s not good for the chain…make sure you downshift before you go up the hill”
- Shifting lessons aren’t always welcomed. I’m trying to balance here…shifting is not my top priority. I would rather not run into a tree than to learn how to shift properly right now
- Let the new person follow you so that they don’t have to expend the extra energy to decide which direction to turn in or navigating. Our attention is on riding (remember…not too many variables!)
- Try not to pressure the newbie into feeling like they have to do well on a particular day’s ride. We’re probably already frustrated with ourselves and feeling bad for wasting a trip isn’t conducive to a fun day
- It takes time for biking to get fun…be patient!