When something is unforgettable once learned, they say “it’s like riding a bike” … don’t they?! Of course, by now I should know better than listening to anything They say, but I always assumed this bike thing to be true. That is, until recently, when I bought myself a lovely (if somewhat cheap and nasty) bicycle.
As I recall it, I was not only a passable rider, but I was a Rather Good rider of bikes. They never said so, but I was certain of it nonetheless. I was good. Once. So, when I bought my latest bike I thought, “well, I might be a bit rusty at first, but I was quite a good rider if I remember, and you know what they say about that”. And on my new bike I hopped.
Yes. Yes I did. Now, I can’t really be sure which of the following is true, but one of them must be:
Possibility one: It’s true that I WAS a terrific cyclist in my youth, but the old saying about it being “like riding a bike” is a total lie.
Possibility two: The saying “it’s like riding a bike” is true and I was actually a not a terrific rider. Being that I was ten years old however, I just thought I was great because I managed to get the training wheels off at some point.
Either way, after an absence of some twenty years, my first ride back in the bike saddle left me shocked, and more than a little disillusioned … At this point I’d like to tip my hat to a complete stranger. I don’t know who she is, but she was sitting in a bus shelter with a lamp post in front of it the day I took this ride. She watched, unflinchingly, as I plowed into that pole right in front of her. She didn’t even snicker. She didn’t move a muscle, or twitch an eye. She did us both the noble service of pretending that I didn’t exist, and that even if I did, she hadn’t seen my wrap myself and my bike around that pole. Bless her stoney, straight face, it’s more than I would have managed in her place. She’s either incredibly generous, or in the late stages of rigor mortis, and whichever it is, I’m grateful.
Whatever is true about bike riding, I am now (re)learning how to do it. Age thirty something. It’s a humbling experience I can tell you. There is no route to being good at something that doesn’t pass through Not Good. All I can do is convince myself that I’m providing a sort of community service by putting a smile on the face of everyone I ride past. It’s important to make people laugh, they like that. All the world loves a clown. And sometimes you’re the clown. The clown on the bike, obviously.
Anyhoo, my latest practice course involves laps around our building as I muster up some courage. It has been pointed out to me that I would stop wobbling so much if I’d just go faster. However, as I keep explaining, “if I’m this bad when I’m slow, just imagine how terrible I’d be if you sped me up!”. So, confidence is what I’m working on in cycling practice currently.
I’ve learned that it’s important to look where you’re going. You see, the bike goes where you’re looking. However, my initial response to this little bit of seemingly obvious instruction was to watch the patch of ground just in front of my front wheel. Not good. You tend to miss the larger obstacles … like lamp posts. So, I’ve learned to raise my head and take in a broader view of the more distant path ahead.
With the joys of learning and an awareness of how excellent it is to learn stuff when you’re older and it looks funnier, I am endeavoring to be more mindful of the broader path ahead in more ways than just bike-riding. This year I’m practicing raising my head from the space in front of my feet.
2011 is going to be about getting some tips about the ride from some pros, and so is this column. I’m happy to be a patient young grasshopper, but I’m going to track down some masters of my own, damn it. Wax on, stack helmet on, and a large “L” on my forehead.
So … Here are the changes you can expect to see here, dear friends:
Beginning in February, I will interview another fabulous individual each month, who has mastered the ride in some way that I (and hopeful you) want to learn. I have enjoyed the learning curves I’ve experienced and shared here incredibly, and this year, I’m signing up for some lessons.
Further to this, in the in-between fortnights, I will be inviting a series of fabulous guest columnists to write here. They will be writing about their fascinations, their fables and perhaps some foibles. The first guest appears in 2 weeks time.
So, there’s something to look forward to every fortnight (lucky lucky!) and we’re on a happy little new year trajectory as pupils. Together. Isn’t that cool? If you’ll be my friend, I’ll carry your lunch pail. And if I share what these teachers know, hopefully you’ll lend me your bus pass so I can get off this damned bicycle.
Happy New Year!