Brand building through storytelling

True confessions of a grownup who still can’t ride a bike

Last night I dreamed I was about to ride a bike. Like a living thing, it quivered as I slipped first my right foot, then my left into the pedals and felt the steadying weight of my intention. I had the sense of a journey about to unfold, but then imagination failed me. I woke up wondering what it meant that I’d just dreamed of a motion I somehow never chose to master, even though it’s second nature to everyone over age six.

Blue BeautyI must have been about six when I acquired the only bike I’ve ever owned. The Winn kids down the street had been tearing up the neighbourhood on shiny new bikes—Chris’s Red Rocket, Kathy’s Blue Beauty. I watched from the sidelines, burning with envy till my parents took me shopping for Blue Jewel. (Was it really the bike I coveted, or just a name with kid cred?) They were about to load their purchase into our second-hand Buick when the salesman asked if they’d be wanting training wheels for the little girl.

My father laughed. “Surely not! She’s perfectly strong and healthy. She can learn to ride the same way other children do.”

It wasn’t like him to resist spending money. If my mother sent Daddy to the supermarket for a quart of milk, she could be sure he’d also pick up a tin of crab meat and a jar of English marmalade with the royal seal on the label. “I’m so glad to know Her Majesty approves our taste in marmalade,” my mother would say. “Of course Her Majesty doesn’t need to clip coupons like some of us.”

But when it came to her daughter’s first bike, my mother wasn’t one to shave costs. She gave my father a knowing look. “Dear, you know how timid she is. Remember the slide at nursery school? All the other children were careering down on their tummies and your strong, healthy daughter just sat at the top, admiring the view. She wouldn’t budge until Miss Rand promised to catch her.”

That settled it. Training wheels.

My mother took a snapshot of me on Blue Beauty. As you see, I did not look sporty. And I never did catch up with the Winn kids. They would vanish around the corner while I clattered after them on my training wheels. I’d been tagging along for just a matter of days when I hit a pothole and fell off Blue Beauty, wailing. My mother rushed from the kitchen and wrapped me in her arms. “You’ve skinned your knee! Oh, it’s bleeding! Let me kiss it better.”

Blue Beauty went off to the garage, training wheels still in place. There it sat until my mother sold it.

More than half a century later, I still haven’t felt the need for a bike. My husband often reminds me that if I learned to ride, we could choose from an ever-expanding menu of cycling holidays. I’m not sure I want to perch for hours on that hard little seat, hunched over the handle bars. “Let’s stick with hiking,” I reply. Even so I must confess to a vague, omnipresent not-belongingness on this planet of cyclists. I feel a twinge every time my dance teacher says, “Once you get this move, it’s yours—just like riding a bike.” When I watch small children wobble down the sidewalk on spanking new bikes, their faces alight with pride, I know that in one sense they’ve already left me behind.

I have flirted with the notion of riding a bike. A few years ago on a spa vacation, I went so far as to hire an instructor who, for three or four days in a row, took me out to the parking lot with a bike and held onto the fender while I pedaled in hesitant bursts, hoping no one could see me. Once my husband walked by, shaking his head. “That instructor ought to cut to the chase and push you down a hill,” he told me later. “You won’t learn until you have to pedal like mad.”

There ensued a vigorous argument about what it would take to get me riding. End of project.

So what’s stopping me? A mental block, pure and simple. I have never believed I could balance on two wheels—never mind that I’m pretty damn good on one leg (tree pose? Bring it on). I haven’t trusted my body to join with a bike and fly somewhere like one being. So I couldn’t conceive of the sensation that keeps children tearing up neighbourhoods all summer long.

Then I had a dream. And now I can almost feel wind in my hair.


Posted by Rona

Previously posted comments:

July 16, 2009 at 5:05AM

I have the same mental block about skating and skiing. In fact, it’s a real phobia about slipping and sliding. Once upon a time, to please a man, I did learn to cross-country ski, but even the smallest rolling hill filled me with trepidation, and I couldn’t enjoy it. Give me snowshoes anytime.

It good to come to a time of life where we can accept that there are certain things we don’t do: I don’t skate, don’t ski and I don’t go canoeing or camping either. That’s really just fine with me.

Rona Maynard
July 17, 2009 at 6:06 AM

And how many adults do we all know who’ve never learned to swim because they can’t bear the thought of putting their faces in the water?

Deb Wilson
July 16, 2009 at 6:06AM

I think it is very tricky for adults who are extremely competent , especially those publicly acknowledged for being so, to tackle new skill sets. (The possible exception being the advent of new technology where everybody faces a similar learning curve). Throw in a bit of perfectionism and the stage is set for a dramedy in several acts.

As a 50 year old I decided to take up tennis to distract from empty nest nastiness. All the other “students” were young adults, about the same ages as my own children. At one point in an early doubles match I ended up with way too loose a grip as I served, meaning the ball went towards the net closely followed by my racket.

I laughed along with everybody else but seethed inside with embarrassed fury at my ineptitude. It took everything I had to show up for the next group lesson.

I did show up but alas no Disney ending. I never became a very good tennis player.

However. I did stick it out, lived to tell the (not so funny to me) story, cemented a lasting friendship with one of the other students and understand the game in a way I never could appreciate before I tried to play.

More important, I now give myself credit for having truly tried, even though by most cultural metrics I was not successful. I will not go through life wondering if I might have enjoyed tennis if I’d only tried. I more fully accept it is not only my winning attempts that serve to make my life rich and rewarding. It turns out I would rather be known not as a person who was successful at everything I tried, but rather as a person who was always willing to try.

Rona Maynard
July 17, 2009 at 6:06 AM

Deb, kudos to you for finding the emotional wherewithal to learn and grow from being something of a klutz on the court. Part of my problem with biking has been a lack of willingness to try. On top of my fear that I was the only human being ever born without the ability to balance on a bike, the whole business seemed so terribly embarrassing.

Lynne Stevenson
July 16, 2009 at 6:06AM

I learned how to ride my next door neighbor’s bike when her mother got a flyswatter and threatened to beat me with it if I didn’t get on it and do exactly what she told me to do. I was seven years old and all of the other neighborhood kids were riding their bikes up and down the street and I was the only one who did not know how to ride a bike. Years later the same lady admitted to me that she would have never hurt me with the flyswatter, she was tired of me being left behind by the other neighborhood kids because I could not ride a bike. So much for neighbors raising each oither’s children!
My parents were both at work when this happened. My mother only found out because one of my friends asked her if she had told the neighbor woman to beat me with a flyswatter. My mother thought I had done something wrong and took me over there to find out what I had done. The neighbor grabbed her flyswatter and told me to show my mother what I could do! So there I was at 9:00 on an August night in my pajamas riding my nextdoor neighbor’s bicycle down her driveway!

Rona Maynard
July 17, 2009 at 6:06 AM

Lynne, what a wonderful story! Maybe what I needed was a strong-minded neighbour with a flyswatter.

July 21, 2009 at 1:01PM

I wrote about my bike memories the other day but my post seems to have been lost in cyberspace – thanks for taking me back. Today I thought of you when I saw an ad (can’t remember for what) that showed a bike with three pairs of training wheels!

Rona Maynard
July 21, 2009 at 4:04 PM

Glad to see you here, Sue. You’ve got me wondering if three sets of training wheels are what it’s going to take to get me back on a bike!

July 21, 2011 at 11:11AM

I’m 32 years old and I still don’t know how to ride a bicycle. I’ve only ever told two people , it’s as though it’s some kinda dark secret. I really would love to learn. I’ll ask a friend of mine , and maybe we could go somewhere secluded, it’s funny though , I’d feel ashamed if people saw me learning. I can’t swim and I tell everybody. I can’t drive no worries there.

Rona Maynard
July 23, 2011 at 9:09 AM

Alan, if you’d love to learn you’ll get there. Your desire to enjoy the experience of biking will carry you past your mental blocks. What stopped me from learning in adult life was a lack of motivation. You don’t seem to have that problem. I’m sure your friend would be happy to help you change your life.

July 28, 2011 at 2:02PM

When I was about 9, my dad bought me a klunker of a used bike. Balloon tires, one speed, rusted fenders, and definitely too big for me. I tried for a few weeks, mostly succeeding in leaving significant quantities of skin on the street in front of our house. Training wheels made no difference, since they were for much smaller kids and when I started to go over, they just folded out of the way. My dad’s frequent little “See how easy it is!” demonstrations only demonstrated that he COULD ride and I couldn’t.

Cut to the chase, I finally took a spill in the yard that jammed a handlebar end into my belly so hard it left a 6″ bruise” that lasted for a couple of months. The bike went into the garage, and I couldn’t have been happier when my folks sold it. I believed I’d disappointed my dad, and I truly think I did because he couldn’t believe that I couldn’t just get on it and ride off — like he claimed he did as a kid. In later years, I was always so ashamed when I couldn’t participate in bike rides at school or the like, and I always made the excuse of having “other things to do” or “I don’t want to.” Yeah. Right.

Fast forward nearly 50 years, and I decided that my dad had lied to me when he told me that I just didn’t have any balance. I can walk, I can ski — I should be able to ride a bike. I bought a cheap, large kid’s bike, took off the pedals, and found a sloping parking lot. With some help (mostly encouragement) from a member of the local bicycle association, I laid a ghost that had haunted me since I was 9, and I can ride. Still not that well, but now it’s just a matter of getting out and riding.

There are all sorts of web sites with good programs to learn to ride, and you don’t necessarily need a teacher. But, a cheerleader who can offer suggestions will help. If I can learn, so can you.

But I still can’t skate, and rollerblades look like SO much fun!

Rona Maynard
July 28, 2011 at 3:03 PM

Wow! I love this story, John. And something tells me you’re going to end up on rollerblades.

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