We all regret not learning a certain skill when we were younger. For me, obviously, one of those things is riding a bike.
I’m an optimistic person who thinks that I can learn anything with perseverance. But what I regret about not learning how to ride a bike earlier is that I’m now too scared to get hurt and too self-conscious about how I look.
The young me was confident, fearless, and didn’t care if I looked pangit or wapoise as long as I was enjoying myself. It never occurred to me that there are things I could not do or that I could get hurt from doing something. Even when I almost died trying to go against a river’s current or when I got sick after ingesting a lot of seawater trying to prove to myself that I could go where my kuya goes, I still thought that I was indestructible — and eventually, I learned how to swim.
Now that I’m an adult, learning something that people usually learned when they were younger makes me insecure and nervous. But the idea of lessening my carbon footprint, riding a bike in different countries, and going through the simple joy of riding a bike are strongly beckoning to me.
And so, this 2019, I took a step to making my dream a reality.
Here’s how my journey went.
Futile flopping around
The first time I tried to learn, we rented a bike at Solenad for an hour. My girlfriend tried to help me, holding the bike as I pedalled. But my tendency was just to lean toward her and rely on her not to let me fall.
After a few attempts of doing that, I asked her to leave me alone for a while to let me get balancing and pedaling on my own. I probably spent 30 minutes that day just stopping my fall with one foot and ended up just moving the bike with one foot.
I was so self-conscious, too. I felt sad every time a kid not more than 10 years old whizzed by past me. And every time I heard a group of people laughing loudly I assumed that they were laughing at me. I often forgot that I was in a park and people were probably just enjoying themselves.
Exasperated, I thought that there was probably a better way to do this and stopped to just read about riding a bike. Eventually, our time was up and we had to return the bike. Feeling down, I no longer asked for an extension of the rental and went away with my girlfriend.
I may have given up too easily, but I suddenly had the drive to learn again and I spent a few nights watching videos on how children and adults are taught how to ride a bike. It turns out, there is a step-by-step way to learn. You have to start with “scooting” training yourself how to balance on two wheels and only then will you try to start pedaling.
And so, for a few weekends I tried learning again while observing the following steps:
1. Find the right bike.
Having the right bike can mean a world of difference to someone who is still learning how to ride one. If your bike is too tall, it would be hard to practice the scooting technique and stop a fall. If it’s too short, your thighs will be too close to your abdomen when you pedal, which can lead to cramps.
To check if a bike is the right size, stand over it. The frame’s top tube should not be pressing into you; if it is, the bike is too tall. When you sit on the saddle, your feet should be able to rest on the ground; if not, lower the seat. If you can’t reach the handlebars and brakes comfortably, the bike is too long for you.
Also, choose a bike with a hand brake instead of a coaster brake (i.e., brake by the rear wheel). Stopping with a coaster brake is confusing and potentially dangerous for newbies because you have to reverse the pedal. I rented a bike with a coaster brake once and almost ran over a little boy. I managed to evade him, but I ended up hitting a trash can. The next day, I had sore thighs and an even sorer tush.
2. Practice braking.
Getting used to applying brakes can give you a boost of confidence and will prevent you from jolting forward once you start riding the bike. Simply walk next to your bike while pushing it down a path and practice pulling on the brakes. Make sure you apply pressure evenly on both handles.
3. Learn how to scoot.
Scooting is a great way to learn how to balance. While sitting on the bike, push yourself off with one foot and keep both feet up for as long as you can. If you feel that you are falling, you can put one foot down. Keep practicing this until you learn how to glide along without putting a foot down to prevent a fall or correct yourself. When you can glide a few meters or up to three seconds you can start practicing pedalling.
4. Get ready to pedal.
Start with one foot on a pedal, raised to the two o’clock position and the other foot on the ground. Push down on the pedal and place your other foot on the opposite pedal as you move forward.
For me, this is technically the hardest part. For some reason, I can’t put my other foot on the pedal fast enough and I end up falling over. It turns out I shouldn’t look at the pedals as this puts me out of balance.
But even when I figured this out I still found it hard to do. There were times when I was able to put my other foot in and pedal three times, but I ended up falling again.
One time though, I was just staring at a tree then I pushed myself hard with my other foot and before I knew it, I was able to pedal several times and traveled a few meters. I tried it again and was able to travel farther – I was finally riding that darn bike! The technique that works for me is to stare at something far away and focus on that.
When you get the hang of it, you’ll find that the faster you pedal, the easier it is to maintain balance. After that, just practice avoiding obstacles, navigating around bending paths, and turning.
It took me four hours across four weekends to learn how to ride a bike. But I’ve seen videos online where people were able to learn in less than an hour. Maybe if I wasn’t over thinking things, I may have learned sooner. I still struggle with turning and avoiding obstacles, but hey, it’s a start.