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photo by Giovanna Zavell
Some people are born to bike. I am not one of those people. Apparently I never got over my fear. As soon as I hit that seat, it all came back to me — just like (not) riding a bike.
For some reason, I decided that, at 21 years old, it was a good time to learn how to ride a bike. Maybe I needed some excitement in my life. Maybe, with adulthood looming, I was looking for a piece of childhood I missed out on. Or, maybe I just hate myself.
I have two, loving, attentive parents. They tried to teach me how to ride a bike. Every spring, from about the time I was four until I was 10, we went to the church parking lot around the corner and gave it a try. “We did it with the training wheels, then we raised one training wheel up so you could learn to balance,” says my mom. “Then we took the training wheels off.” My parents did their due diligence.
“As parents, it was more important to us than it was to you,” says my dad. But, even then, I wasn’t having it. Something about riding a bike still terrifies me. Mainly, it’s the possibility of falling. But also, that out-of-control feeling that happens once the bike really gets going is not my favorite. I suck at it. 10-year-old me couldn’t shake her fears. 21-year-old me isn’t doing so hot, either.
I’m A Big Kid Now
At this point in my life, I know how riding a bike works. I know that the faster I go, the less likely I am to fall. To a certain extent, if millions of teeny-tiny booger eaters can do it, I know that I should be capable as well. So I tried, but not without some help. I recruited my friend Anna to give me a lesson in biking.
As Anna and I attached the front wheel to my roommate’s rarely used bike, I broke out into a sweat. I was terrified, for many reasons. Was I going to hurt myself? How the hell was a 5-foot Anna supposed to keep me from falling? But what if riding a bike comes easy, and I was just a crybaby, like all my bullies and cousins had said? If you ask my mom, this reaction was predictable. “You were just too afraid of falling and getting injured,” she says. “You were a thinker as a young person, and you’re still a thinker.”
With the wheel attached and the bike carried down my too-steep apartment stairs to the empty parking lot next door, it was time to ride. Or at least attempt to.
In my first bike lesson post-puberty, I did have some moments of triumph. I could kind of pedal. But there were lots of other things I could not do: get on the bike unassisted, brake, stay upright, go straight. After I biked independently for approximately 15 feet, until crashing, I felt like I was in a good space to teach myself the rest. I was incorrect.
I Think Not
The next weekend I strapped on my helmet, knee pads, and elbow pads, and once again struggled down the stairs with my roommate’s bike. The self-teaching method did not go well. I realized very quickly that I know nothing about gears, bike chains or gravity. Trying to teach myself consisted of slamming my knee on rocks, falling off as soon as I got on and saying “ow” as I got stuck trying to stay upright while the bike fell to the ground. Not fun.
After one-too-many rounds of “ow,” I was suddenly my 10-year-old self again: frustrated that I could not figure out something so simple, mad that everybody else can ride a bike, resolute in the fact that I am not meant to be on two wheels. As I struggled to drag the bike back into the too-narrow entryway of my apartment and up the too-steep stairs, my resolution devolved into tears. What a throwback.
I could blame my inability to learn how to bike on a lot of factors: I get home after dark most days (true), it’s too cold to be outside (depends on the Midwesterner you ask), I can’t teach myself (eh). But in reality, these are excuses. The reason I can’t ride — or learn to ride — a bike is because of fear.
A decade’s worth of fear is too much for me to mount. Just like my roommate’s 10-speed.