I was 20 years old when I learned how to ride a bike. That was the big secret I revealed in one of my job interviews, when the HR assistant asked me to tell her something different about myself.
Yep, I never owned a bicycle growing up, nor was anyone around to teach me how to ride a bike even if I did. I remember puttering about the house in a three-wheeler—painted white, with huge handlebars and a floral-print seat–when I was about six or seven years old, though, and that felt extraordinary then: the ability to navigate without the cumbersome involvement of dirt and ground with the soles of my shoes! I never got my own bike, though, and after a few days, I lost interest and the white bike was towed away somewhere.
How could I have known that biking skill was a necessary passport to the world of humanity? I had my cousin teach me how to ride in high school—and I quit after a couple of hours. It was just too damn hard. It turned out that nearly everyone knew how to ride a bike—a non-bike rider was a rare bloom. In fact, I found only one non-biking girl in my class in high school. My lack of skill was further highlighted when I hung out one afternoon at a friend’s house and she decided to go Rollerblading. Our other friend said, “Okay, and I’ll just coast along on your bike.” As a total nothing on wheels, I piped up, “Ah, then I’ll just jog along beside you!”
Soon afterward, I decided there was nothing wrong with being bicyclically-impaired. A lot of people, a lot less than bike riders but numerous all the same, couldn’t ride a bike to save their lives, so I thought I was in pret-ty good company.
Until my niece, then only eight years old, learned how to ride a bike. It wouldn’t be long until her younger sister started learning. I had to act fast.
My moment came in 2002. I was 20 years old, fresh out of university, eager to learn the ways of the world, and ready for anything. I was staying with my sister’s family then and my brother-in-law got a BMX bike for $10 at a garage sale. He tried teaching me for a day, during which I kept stumbling and getting distracted by so many instructions and my nieces’ encouraging cheers. But one day when they were all away, I took out the bike and proceeded to train myself, with only the afternoon sunlight and the wind in the trees for company.
Three hours later, I was proudly coasting up and down the driveway, falling only once and not badly at all, greeting my family with my newfound skill. And a few days later, we all drove to Concord, Massachusetts where we biked for six miles on what wasn’t really a bike trail but a quiet road in a residential area. The streets dipped and rose and I found myself screaming while barreling down a sloping road and panting furiously on inclines. Nevertheless, I managed to impress my sisters with my skill on a bike with pedal brakes.
After that, I didn’t get to do a lot of biking. My next serious biking experience came two years later when we rode around Yosemite National Park. It was a bit of a struggle getting my balance and feet to work, but I managed—save for the moment an insect perched under my nose, causing me to flail wildly and crash to the ground. That was probably the worst spill I’ve had so far.
Two weeks afterwards, I had my first real taste of a bicycle with brakes on the handlebars. Burlington, Vermont will forever be etched in my biking diaries. I discovered it was a lot easier using the brakes and managed to not fall at all! I had to contend with a newly-discovered fear though: the presence of far too many hikers, bikers, and Rollerbladers. They tend to make me lose my concentration and wobble all over the place.
The recent biking trips made me want to finally get my own bike and ride around parks or my old university. Not too shabby for someone who bikes sporadically and learned at a relatively later age, eh?
This was written sometime in 2005, if I’m not mistaken. Today, I have my own bike but only get to bike around the neighborhood.