Healthy Outlook: I finally learned how to ride a bike — at age 27
Some tips for those trying to teach the elusive art of cycling
photo by: Mac Moore
To answer your first question, no, I really never learned how to ride a bike before last week — just a couple short decades later than most children.
For those of you who pay close attention, yes, I did write a spring biking guide in April, and I wrote about the new bike-share program at the University of Kansas. But if you recall, dear readers, I didn’t draw a single thought in those articles from my own experience.
How could I? Riding without training wheels was just one of those things I never quite mastered as a kid. Far from it. My parents are not to blame — I just never cared enough to put in the effort to learn. I tried a few times, got bored and gave up.
So last week, I decided the time had come. My mother allowed me to use her bike, which had sat unused for most of my lifetime; but after our recent adventure, she has now started to ride again.
Oh, it was delightful hearing the neighbors cheer me on in my sad struggle, the same way they had 20 years prior — and by “delightful” I mean a tiny bit humiliating, but nowadays I get quite a laugh out of poking fun at myself.
It was a pretty hilarious sight: a fully grown woman wobbling along with one foot on a pedal and the other bouncing along the pavement, and my silver-haired mother running behind, clinging to the bike’s seat to help me balance, ever patient and supportive as day turned into evening.
But after a few hours’ work, my bruised-up legs finally learned what to do, and I can now somewhat confidently wobble my way down a wide-open parking lot and back without running into any poles, trees or slow-moving fauna.
photo by: Mac Moore
It’s just a start — by the time I could actually pedal and go, my body was so worn out that we needed to call it a night. But I’m so excited that now my mom and I will be able to go on bike rides together. This will be an awesome new way for us to bond.
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I decided to try again this weekend, using one of KU’s VeoRide bike-share bikes. Most of them are on campus, but there were also a few parked in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District on Saturday.
Anyone who participated in the drum circle at the Lawrence Creates Makerspace that afternoon can tell you my short practice rides outside the building didn’t go too well. (I hope they enjoyed my show as much as I enjoyed theirs.) However, I still did a lot better than I did on my first attempt, which just goes to show that even if you only kind of learn how, once you’ve gotten it down you can pick up riding where you left off.
I think my learning could’ve gone much more smoothly, so I’ve provided tips here for those who are just getting started — or, more likely, getting their kids started.
Here’s some advice, from an adult beginner’s perspective:
• Don’t forget the basics. Wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water before, during and after this mission. (I got so enthralled with learning that I forgot about these things on my first ride and lived to regret it.) Keep the heat in mind, also — symptoms of overheating include headache, dizziness, weakness, fainting, cramping and losing consciousness, according to the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. Don’t let your enthusiasm for learning distract you from listening to your body.
• Helmets should come first. When you’re learning to ride is when you’re most prone to accidents. Don’t wait until you’re heading out on “real” rides to make sure your head is protected. I got one for about $40 at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike Shop, 804 Massachusetts St. Kneepads and elbow pads are a good idea, and if you tend to cling on for dear life like I do, protective gloves could be helpful. Also, this might be obvious, but wear closed-toe shoes and comfy athletic clothes. (Flip-flops are asking for trouble.)
• The brakes should come second. Brakes are your friend. Learn how to use the back brakes first, then the front brakes, so you don’t throw yourself over the handlebars.
• Don’t start at the top of a hill. We thought the momentum a hill would give me would make it easier to start to pedal and fly from there. This is not the case. I never would’ve succeeded if we hadn’t moved our party to a big, open, fairly flat parking lot. There aren’t too many around town, but the ones near the high schools and some of the city’s athletic facilities might be good options on evenings or weekends when there’s not much traffic.
• Master gliding, steering and turning before pedaling — that way, once you actually can pedal, you won’t have to stop or risk falling over as you attempt to navigate turns.
• Learn in a safe place away from any cars, and do not go anywhere near traffic until you’re well-versed in safety practices and fully confident in your abilities. (Another 10 years or so, and I think I’ll be ready.)
• Be prepared to go fast. Seasoned riders don’t realize just how fast it feels to those who haven’t done it, and it was pretty scary for me at first. Once again, the brakes are your friends.
At age 27, I’m a believer that it’s never too late to learn a new trick — and this is a pretty fun one. If you never learned, I can sympathize; I also challenge you to get out there and try it.
I feel like this has opened up a new world of possibilities for me. This is going to be a wonderful new way to exercise. I am still far from proficient, but I think I’m closing in on competent, and I’m excited to someday pick out my own bike.
About Healthy Outlook
Healthy Outlook is a column written by Journal-World reporter and Health section editor Mackenzie Clark, in hopes of helping readers make their lives a little bit happier, healthier and more active.
Have questions about the world of health and wellness in Lawrence, or a health story idea? Contact Mackenzie: