#56 Pedal to Whatever
It’s 11:16pm. In 46 minutes, I will be 50 years old. It’s weird and cool and exciting and UGH and WOW. But the thing that’s on my mind is this:
I don’t know how to ride a bike.
Does this count?
This isn’t some deep, dark secret. It’s actually on my list of go-to fun facts to use in corporate icebreakers, along with “raised in a bar” and “rode an elevator 33 floors with JFK, Jr.” I’ve even bonded with other people who (GASP!) never learned to ride.
I really have no idea why I didn’t learn when I was the usual age (what IS the usual age, anyway? 2? 7? 19?) I used to say I was “never taught” as if it was a deliberate choice by my parents to further alienate me from other normal, two-wheeling kids. Or that maybe my mother was traumatized when my brother was hit by a car while riding his bike and thus refused to let her baby get on one of those death traps.
I remember my siblings offering to teach me when I was in middle school, but by then I thought I was too awkward and too fat to learn. I imagined how ridiculous I would look - a kid my age just now learning to ride.
As a young adult, well-intentioned friends would encourage me to learn. By this time, I was genuinely concerned about getting hurt and equally worried about just looking ridiculous. They’d scoff and point out packs of small children riding, “See? They can ride. What are you so afraid of?”
Is there anything more humiliating than being compared with a gang of 4th graders and coming up short? My inability to ride and, worse, my unwillingness to try was branded a failure of the spirit.
In my early 40s, I was in great shape and decided I was finally READY to tackle this bike thing. Did you know you can hire a private coach to teach you?
AND I DID.
She had taught a friend to ride, easy peasy, and I was excited to get to it. Unfortunately, I picked the first nice Saturday of the Spring for my grand experiment. Every open space in the city was mobbed with people by 9:30 am. There was literally no where for us to set ourselves up where there was enough space to actually pedal and ride. So the coach tried to just have me work on balancing. A group of guys yelled over to us: “YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.” Another guy yelled, “YOU LOOK RIDICULOUS.”
Shit. I KNEW IT.
The excitement I felt quickly gave way to frustration and embarrassment. I didn’t learn to ride that day. Or any other day.*
Since then, I’ve made peace with it all. It’s really a nonissue in my life. But, the other day, I was journaling and I had this really strong vision of myself getting on my bike and pedaling away. I thought about it for a few minutes. For a moment, I had the urge to actually get up and go to the bike rack and give it a try.
I should mention: I own 3 bikes. I have 2 beach cruisers because people like to ride when they’re down here at the shore. And, earlier this year, my niece saw a sign for a free tandem bike and brought it over. I own 3 bikes and ride none.
Is anything really ever FREE?
I wondered if the sheer idea of riding a bike, and the mental practicing I’d done over the years, would translate to me just taking off like a pro. Like those people whose brains lit up when they mentally rehearsed piano music.
I’m down the shore for a month. In September, most of the summer people will be gone. I think that will be a great time to ride.
*I have ridden several 3-wheelers since then. I rode one once in the Hamptons. It was old and, according to people who know about bikes, the gears were in bad shape so it was hard to handle. An angry driver kept honking at me because my wide ride was taking up too much space. Another driver — an older man in a beautiful BMW— pulled up beside me and called out, “Don’t you listen to him! You just keep pedaling!”