Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying (at 25) and Love my Bike.
Innate Marketing Coordinator Michelle Baynton, our resident out-the-door outdoor adventurer, discusses the process, challenges and rewards of learning to ride a bike as an adult. This adventure culminated in her participating in Vancouver’s Bike to Work week for the first time.
I just never learned.
It’s not for lack of trying, but I never could master anything with two wheels. Four wheels? Sure. No problem. But two? Now that was just asking for trouble.
Like a lot of kids, I got my first bike on my fifth birthday. She was a hot pink Huffy Miss with rainbow handlebar streamers, sparkly spoke beads and a bulbous, black bike horn. It was love at first sight.
We were inseparable; two diminutive adventurers on a mission. She and I were little speed demons, her rainbow streamers flapping in the wind. We could tackle the muddiest trails, yet still be presentable for the annual Champlain Heights Annex bike parade. She looked resplendent in her homemade unicorn costume, if I do say so myself.
But this mechanical romance couldn’t last forever. I reached the age where it became just a little bit silly that I still had training wheels. All of my friends were magically balanced on two wheels zipping past me. I was embarrassingly tottering along on four. So, I bit the bullet and asked my mom to take the training wheels off.
It did not go well.
I wobbled. I skidded. I crashed. I persisted. But I could never get the balance quite right.
There is evidence of a later flirtation with a nondescript red BMX bike. Taking into account my remarkable lack of coordination, my mom insisted on certain precautions.
After a final wipeout on the Crimson Nightmare, in which I vividly remember cutting my shin on the cement trail edge, I stopped riding altogether. Bikes became scary death machines, capable of irreparable harm like skinned knees and bruised elbows. I hung up my helmet and never rode again.
That is until a grey, muggy day in May. Vancouver’s Bike to Work Week was just a few short weeks away and the whole office was buzzing with excitement. Almost everyone was going to be biking to and from work. I felt completely out of the loop. So, that was it. No more excuses. At age 25, twenty years after my ill-fated love affair with Huffy Miss, I was going to do it. I was going to learn how to ride a bike, sans assistance. That’s right, no training wheels. No mommy holding onto the seat as I pedaled into the sunset.
So I rented Beast, a cheap seven-speed, and set my sights on the closest level riding space, the Kits beach seawall. Walking Beast down the hill from my apartment was a challenge in-and-of itself. I wrestled with the heavy metal monster, fearing that he would spring to life at any minute and jump me. I swerved back and forth along the pavement, willing the damn thing to go in a straight line.
I was pathologically distrustful of Beast. That distrust was not altogether undeserved.
I started, as various YouTube videos and articles suggested, by learning how to balance and glide. I set Beast on a slight incline and pushed off with my feet. I slowly inched down the “hill”; eyes closed, knuckles white, screaming the whole way. Not too bad for a first attempt, although the 8 year old who zipped by on her single-speed gave me some pretty quizzical looks.
After I’d become fairly comfortable with the fact that I could glide down a hill without Beast spontaneously shooting out from under me, I moved onto actually pedaling. That’s when the real challenge began.
Apparently, if you stare directly at an object, your bike will naturally veer towards that object. This was a lesson that I learned again and again on that first ride. I selectively crashed into trees. I crashed into bushes. I visited perfect strangers on park benches. I even crashed into one irritated, yet ultimately forgiving, slow-moving golden retriever. I wondered if Beast had indeed become murderously sentient or merely possessed after I almost ran down a little girl with a glittery pink Hello Kitty backpack. Nope, I’m just easily distracted by shiny things.
Slowly, I started to get the hang of it. Park benches and sparkly backpacks no longer held me in their sway. Pedaling at the blistering speed of 5 mph suddenly became, dare I say it, fun. Within an hour, I was riding up and down the seawall with the confidence and balance of a neurotic 6 year old.
A few weeks later, I commuted to work on Beast for the first time. I was still unsteady. A bit unsure. Completely intimidated by cars and cobblestones. But with help from my vanguard of experienced cycling coworkers, I was able to get to the office in one piece.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be fully comfortable on a bike. I have a serious case of the clumsies, so I’m not the most capable rider out on the roads. However, the fact remains that bikes are no longer the scary death machines that I thought they were. When someone says that something is as easy as riding a bike, I can finally understand what they’re talking about. Thanks to the support of my Innate family, who brave the roads everyday on their bikes, I’ve finally learned how to love mine.