That phrase never quite fit for me. It is supposed to mean that you have never lost an acquired skill and that reclaiming it will be as easy as “riding a bike.” Riding a bike, for me, was never like “riding a bike”. I struggled.
I struggled the first time as a child. I wasn’t (nor am I now) particularly coordinated. I wanted to ride a bike, desperately. I saw my playmates riding and longed to join them. I had a freakishly coordinated friend who was riding a unicycle while I still had training wheels. I wanted to accomplish that childhood rights of passage. But it didn’t happen as quickly as I thought it should. My father ran along side of me, coaching me with encouraging words. I felt supported, but not capable. After considerable time and practice, I eventually learned to ride my bike.
I started to ride again about three years ago, many, many years later. When I first got back on the bike, I told myself that it’s “just like riding a bike”—except it still wasn’t. I was shaky, fell off, ran into things. I bought bandaids. It was like being seven years old all over again, but not in a good way.
As I learned as a child, this was not one of my natural skills. I decided that I was going to do as much as I could, and not be too hard on myself. This meant that I walked my bike up too-hard hills and between obstacles, despite what my more coordinated ride-mates might be doing.
The thing that helped me the most was remembering Calvin.
Calvin was one of one of my young students. Even though he was only 4 years old—he was very wise. He was a hearty boy, but wasn’t much of a risk-taker. He was very bright, but not particularly coordinated. One day, he was watching his classmates play hopscotch and was encouraged to join in. Try as he might, he didn’t quite have the balance and couldn’t hop on one foot. As children do, they started pointing this out and started to tease him. Calvin was also very sensitive and his feelings could get hurt easily.
Not this time.
He drew himself up to his full 4 year-old height, widened his stance, placed his hands on his hips and loudly announced, “I can’t do it today, but I WILL!”
Beautiful! Bravo, Calvin! I was so proud of him at that moment! I was also envious. Why couldn’t I have that same sense of self? How could I learn (and know deeply) that my limitations of the moment did not define my entire experience or my future?
In the beginning I just took short rides—to my local grocery store, less than a mile away. Although the distance was short, it defeated me every time—there was that damn hill. Each time I was determined to conquer it, and each time I got off my bike and walked it to the top. Eventually I mastered the fear of looking down long enough to shift. Who knew this would make things so much easier? After that ground-breaking discovery, I could make that trip easily. Next it was riding to the beach –a flatter route, but with discouraging headwinds either coming or going. I checked that box after a while. The 8-mile trek (each way) to the farmer’s market used to take forever, until I stopped thinking about how far it still was to reach the destination and decided to enjoy the scenery.
On my bike I feel more connected. I’m more connected to people, because I interact with them on the ride, I even connect with people in cars because I look them in the eye so I know they see me and won’t inadvertently run me over. I’ m also more connected to my environment. I’ve never heard anyone talk about the smells. The smells are amazing! I know who is having a charcoal fire to cook food from those who have a wood fire for warmth in the fire pits along PCH. My favorite is discovering which neighbors have jasmine blooming in their yard. I can tell, just by taking a breath as I ride by. It is intoxicating! I know so much more about my neighborhood than I could ever know from the seat of a car.
I borrow a page from Calvin’s book all the time now. I’d love to report that I’ve become a daredevil on wheels—but I’m not, I never will be. But I am comfortable riding a bike. I’ve ridden hundreds of miles. Riding has become a pleasure, not something to be feared. I’ve not only gained strength, but also confidence
My bike is a bike, but also a metaphor. When I am trying something new, or am trying to reclaim past skills, I try not to heap hot coals on myself if I don’t get it right immediately (even though I still secretly hope I will). Calvin’s lesson comes to me in those moments of fear and frustration. I widen my stance, put my hands on my hips and tell myself “I can’t today, but I WILL!”
And I do.
About Terri Ryder
Terri has a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) from Boston University and a Master’s in Education (EdM) from Harvard University, specializing in risk and prevention for children and youth. She has completed the League of American Bicyclist's Traffic 101 bike safety course and is an active member of Huntington Beach Bicycle Advocates (HuBBA) and Women on Bikes SoCal. A dynamic and innovative educator she offers private coaching for those with special needs. Terri is collaborating with with Women on Bikes SoCal to create a version of the new "Street Savvy" adult bicycle safety course for tween and teen audiences to be available for spring/summer 2013.