Feet Off the Ground
I’ve always wanted to learn how to ride a bike. Seeing fellow city dwellers casually cruising along the bike paths reminds me that I’m missing out on something. Not to mention that there’s finally a bike share program in NYC? Clearly, it is time to join this party.
The fact that I can’t ride a bike isn’t due to a lack of trying, mind you! Oh, I’ve tried! Numerous times throughout both my childhood and early adult life. But there was a disconnect between my body and what it was attempting to achieve. There’s also the fact that I can’t balance worth a damn if I have both feet off the ground.
While my dad has always been an avid cyclist, my mom suffers from the same balance issue as I do. Early on it became clear which ticket I landed with in the genetics lottery. Thankfully, bikenewyork.org are on a ceaseless mission to help folks like me. So, I strapped on my big-girl panties and signed up for one of their free “Learn To Ride” classes that take place every weekend, throughout different parks in the city, for the duration of the summer. Are you praying for me yet?
The disadvantage to taking one of these classes in the summer is that they fill up even faster than usual (who knew so many of us were without two-wheeler expertise) and the classes occasionally rain out. We all want to learn how to ride in the fresh-as-it-can-get city air, right?
The first class I signed up for ended up being one that was rained out and so I had to join the waiting list for another. By then, I was considering the reality of an adult tricycle. I finally managed to get into one on Saturday, June 15th, at Pier 54. They make sure to have both bikes and helmets available for every student, as well as approximately one instructor per every two students.
First off, the bike you receive has no pedals. The point of this is so that you can learn to balance on the bike by “Flintstone” walking whilst you straddle it. Its actually a rather genius method that made me smack myself for not thinking about before. You’re meant to continue doing this for a good half-hour to forty-five minutes or as long as it takes you to “coast” i.e. push off and maintain your balance with, you guessed it, both feet off the ground. The class runs for 2 hrs with the second being dedicated to actually pedaling the bike once a student has reached aome level of comfort. Here’s where it got extra hilarious!
Coasting for me was surprisingly easy. The tips they gave such as looking straight ahead instead of down at the wheel really DO help you maintain balance. But then they put those pedals on and…it was a hot mess, guys. I could loosen my “death grip” and straighten from my core all I wanted and I STILL kept listing to the left! Still, I persisted because I had two full, FREE hours of instruction that I was determined not to give up on.
No matter how many times I caught my ankle on a pedal or banged my crotch (we’ll talk about that later). And, you know what? I did it. I RODE A BIKE. I got up, stayed up, and managed to go a fair amount of small distances. However! I’m still unable to turn or ride straight; my front wheel continued to wobble precariously, putting the lives of the other students in hypothetical danger. Its a start though, right? The most important part of any journey is the start.
bikenewyork.org states that they want to at least give participants of their “Learn to Ride” classes the confidence to balance; proficiency comes in time. I came away with just that confidence. It makes me want to try more, and more often, to conquer this gap in my physical education. I’d also like to avoid both crashing into and/or killing someone with any bike I end up on. (I’ve been hit by a person on a bicycle, okay? It is NOT pretty.)
Unfortunately, I am sad to report that I am only now regaining steady feeling in my right pinky. My death grip on the handlebars, especially by my dominant hand, left me with bruises deep enough to affect sensation. Good times. As for my crotch? Let’s just say that my sympathy with pornstars has increased tenfold. The instructors weren’t kidding about us possibly needing padded shorts.
If you’re interested, find these good folks here: http://www.bikenewyork.org Even if you’re already ready, willing, and able to cycle, the site is full of access to great bicycle education!