Thursday, May 23, 2013

Learning to Ride a Bicycle After Believing for 38 Years I Could Not

As those of you who have read my bio know, I just recently learned how to ride a bicycle.  In late 2012, my husband challenged my then 11-year-old daughter to teach me how to ride, since I never learned as a child.  It’s not that I didn’t try.  No, I tried very hard to learn.  I even had a friend who worked with me and suggested I get on and ride straight down a large hill, because surely that would help me learn.  Despite her good intentions, that was the last time I attempted to ride.  I crashed pretty hard and believed that it was impossible for me to learn.

I hid the fact that I had never learned because I was embarrassed.  I figured everyone knew how to ride a bike and I must be stupid to have never figured it out.  All of these thoughts were present from those impressionable childhood years and I carried those beliefs with me well into adulthood.  I was able to hide that I had not learned to ride from most people I knew because I did not have many friends who were active and athletic.  Even those who were more active were only active to a point, such as going for walks or slow jogs, but nothing more.

My husband had talked about having me learn to ride a bike for a few years, but I always managed to find some excuse and skip out on learning.  I just couldn’t see myself riding a bike; you know the old saying, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  That was my internal motto.  I stubbornly refused to even try.  Then, when my daughter got involved, I found the excuses falling by the wayside.  It took a few times of her asking, me giving excuses, and seeing the disappointment in her eyes even though she never said a word, to finally give in and go down to the park with an old bicycle.

I watched her and her two brothers ride for awhile, working over in my head how I was going to accomplish this task.  I conjured up an image of myself riding that bicycle and decided it was time to get on and begin pedaling.  I worked those pedals, sometimes making several revolutions, other times just a couple.  I had the seat so low on the bike that I could immediately put my feet down on the ground and remain on the seat with plenty of room to spare.  I was that afraid of falling off.

Then, wonder of all wonders, I began pedaling again and the next thing I knew I was across the parking lot and I had balanced that bicycle all the way across.  The next step was to incorporate turning into the equation and, so, I rode that bike, turning this way and that, then riding straight, all the meanwhile keeping it in an upright position.  Talk about a feeling of accomplishment!  Here I was, 38 years old at the time, and I was doing something I never thought I would ever do.

Since that day in October, 2012, I have spent some time getting acquainted with riding.  I have not ridden in a couple of months now, due to the fact that the bicycle I learned on and was riding is quite old and has some quirks that we have not been able to completely fix.  I rode it for a few months, quirks and all, but decided I would wait until I get my new bike to get out there and go for bike rides.  I took one too many spills due to bike issues and decided to put it away.  Don’t get me wrong; I’ve taken plenty of spills due to human error, too.  I just didn’t want to keep adding to those spills that will continue to occur until I get some serious time under my belt with spills that could be avoided with a bike in good shape.  And, there was some fear in there, too.  There still is and there will be for awhile until I log more miles and develop better bike handling skills.  This is all part of my journey to becoming an athlete.  Feeling the fear, but doing it anyway, because the enjoyment far outweighs the fear as does the satisfaction and fulfillment of doing it.

One of the key things that helped me break through the fear and learn how to ride a bike, and that will help me as I develop my biking skills, is the “seeing” myself I mentioned earlier.  I used this visualization to see myself getting on the bike and keeping it upright.  Though I had never pedaled more than a few feet before losing my balance, I learned in the blink of an eye when I took the time to step outside my skin and “see” myself on the bike, the balls of my feet on the pedals, using my body to balance, keeping my eyes up and ahead, keeping a firm but not overly tight grip on the handle bars, and seeing myself pedal at a faster pace, knowing that slower is not better when working to keep a bike up on its two wheels.

I cannot say with enough enthusiasm how important this visualization process was (and is).  I may still have learned how to ride, but I believe it would have taken me longer than it did once I actually decided I was going to learn that clear October day.  To this day, I picture myself riding a bicycle, developing the skills I have already started working on, as well as utilizing other skills I have not yet attempted but have watched professionals use.  Not only has the visualization process been helpful in my learning, it has also helped increase my confidence when I was riding more often.  It also helps keep my confidence up as I prepare for when I do get a better bicycle and am able to get back out there and ride.  If you would like more info on visualization and its effectiveness, click here for an introduction into the benefits of visualization and one example of “how-to.”  Who knows, it may be of great benefit to you, whether cycling, running, playing any variety of other sports, or even if you have to give a speech to a large crowd and you feel uncertain about doing so!


  1. Charles Nixon, Ph.D.May 24, 2013 at 9:22 PM

    The skill of visualization, and the importance of developing that skill, is far too unfamiliar to most people. It is a skill that can be enhanced and the benefits that will be experienced are hard to understand without faith in the process. It is a skill that is worth investing in. Thanks for reminding us of that power that is at our disposal.

  2. I will never forget watching that video and realizing you were actually riding that bike!! It took me a few seconds to catch on. And I was just many kids get to see there Mother learning to ride a bike and getting to cheer her on?

    1. I hadn't thought of it from that perspective before. Not many kids get that opportunity. If anything, I think them being involved in that process was a potentially huge lesson for them that anything is possible if you set your mind to it and believe you can do it. I'll never forget the looks on each of their faces. I don't think they could have been more proud. My experience in that moment when I saw them beaming at me is something I will never forget. Thank you for sharing that perspective with me.