Years ago my wife Gwyn lived in an Amish commune where all forms of modern transportation were shunned. Alas, she never learned to ride a bicycle.
I kid, I kid. Gwyn isn’t Amish.
But it is true that for various reasons (viz. reasons I do not know) my Dear Wife never learned how to ride a bike as a kid.
After making a post on Twitter about our bike lessons last week, I was surprised to hear from various friends and readers that first-time, adult cycling is not an isolated phenomenon. Turns out, there are quite a few folks who have never learned to ride two-wheelers as kids. Growing up in Oklahoma, I just took it for granted that every child knew how to ride a bike. It was the quickest way to get to the mailbox from Grandma’s. It was the quickest way to get to school from Mom’s. And bikes were much easier for a ten year-old to drive than the Gator, although the Gator was driven plenty when it came for fishing. Suffice it to say, life on the farm was markedly different than life in metro-area, Tucson, and times have changed mightily.
Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I tried to help Gwyn learn to ride a bike, using my trusty steed. But the tires on my road bike were way too narrow for a new rider to learn on. She did a fine job of balancing, but when it came time to peddle, she ended up losing control, getting frustrated with a bike she simply wasn’t prepared to ride. To her credit, she never wrecked the bike, which is more than I can say for myself, and in fact, she didn’t even take a tumble. But after a few hours in the drive way, it was clear that a road bike was not a good way to begin learning how to ride.
Over the weekend, we decided that the best way for her to learn to ride would be to buy her a bike that was better suited to her comfort level. We considered three criteria in shopping for a new bike: 1) A bike with wide tires to make for easier balancing, 2) One that allowed for the rider to ride upright rather than bent over, and 3) A bike that was not so expensive that she would be afraid to wreck it in the event of a fall. For the record, the last point was made more out of practicality than a sense of fatalism of Gwyn’s biking ability. One’s wallet cries a lot less when wrecking a cheap Schwinn, than when one wrecks a Novara Verita Bike – at least my wallet does.
Given that our main concern was cost, our bike shopping took us to Wal-Mart where we happened upon the ladies’ Schwinn Admiral above. The bike boasts seven speeds, front and rear breaks, SRAM grip shifters, Shimano rear derailleurs, a bike rack, and a solid, steel frame. The bike seemed like a smart purchase, but what really sold her on this bike was its aesthetics – as you can see in the photo, it has a certifiably cool, retro look, coupled with extreme comfort while riding. Add to this a $149 price tag, and it was an easy purchase decision to make.
Gwyn will still need a lot of practice before she takes to the bike lanes along Skyline and Sunrise. But the change between a bike that was appropriate for her experience level, as opposed to my road bike, was remarkable. The last time we practiced riding, we spent at least two hours just learning how to balance on my road bike. But within 15 minutes of getting the new bike adjusted, Gwyn had already mastered balancing on the bike, pushing off with her dominant foot, and pedaling unaided down the driveway. Before we called it an evening, she even felt comfortable making slow, 360 degrees turns!
Needless to say, I was quite proud of her.
I think there were probably two lessons that we took from the two bike-learning experiences.
First, a little patience goes a long way. This is an obvious lesson, but people have innately different senses of balance and caution. What works for one may not work for another, and this was difficult for me to remember. I just assumed that since it was easy for me to take up road biking, my wife would take to it as well. Really, what she needed was a bike that was better suited to her experience level.
Walk before you run, as they say.
Second, for adults learning to ride a bike, do yourself a favor and find a bike that you feel comfortable riding. Don’t ride a bike simply because it’s available. In terms of fit, Gwyn fell in love with her Schwinn hybrid because it allowed her to put both feet on the ground with ease. She also liked the comfy seat, and wide handle bars. At the end of the day, she loves her bike because it makes her feel comfortable to ride. And that’s the point really: if it isn’t fun, and it isn’t comfortable, don’t ride it. There are plenty of bikes available that can meet your needs.
Today we conquered the driveway. Tomorrow we might very well try the bike path. After that, who knows? Maybe one day we’ll conquer the world.