Learning to ride a bike as an adult

They say it’s a skill you never forget, but what if you could never do it in the first place? Writer Kat Poole learned to ride a bike as a grown-up. Sort of.

Emerald Street writer Kat in Copenhagen, Denmark with a bike

“What was your childhood?” is something I’ve heard a lot, recently. When you tell someone you can’t [*hushed voice*] actually ride a bike, they tend to go through various stages: shock, disbelief, and a serious concern for a youth tragically lost to walking everywhere.

If you’re wondering that too, don’t. I happen to like going on foot (and driving a car) and my Dad did try to teach me to ride a bike for ages. In his own words: “You did want to learn, but you were petrified that I would let go of you. The day you actually wobbled off on your own without me supporting you was, on reflection, one of my life’s red letter days.” Shortly afterwards I wobbled straight down a ditch in Southampton Common, and called it a day, aged about ten.

Kat trying on her helmet

Since then, my attempts have been futile. I’ve been stuck in the middle of northern Vietnam crying (literally) “Go on without me!” when I couldn’t push off at all. Once, a teenage boyfriend told me that not being able to go biking around the New Forest was “really ruining the relationship.” Now I’m quite certain my nice adult boyfriend loves me in spite of my poor balance and little-to-no spatial awareness. But when he suggested we spend some of our first holiday together cycling around Copenhagen and I told him I couldn’t, I knew he was slightly disappointed.

And so in the interest of keeping romance alive (I heard bikes were romantic), but mainly because I wanted to finally learn, I loaned a lovely lightweight, single-speed Nero bike from Quella and a Hedon Cortex helmet – important, obviously. A week later – which is how long it took for me to fight the fear of getting it out of the box – I was stood outside the Emerald Street office, nauseous, about to willingly humiliate myself in front of my editor Anna (reassuring), art director Steve (supportive) and Tom, head of broadcast (“Come on then, Chris Hoy”).

 

Kat with Emerald Street editor Anna Fielding and art editor Steve Williams, trying out the bike

Once I’d overcome the dizzy feeling of being perched on the saddle – which really hurts your bum! – Anna and Steve gripped on to the frame as I wheeled myself VERY SLOWLY down the street. It was horrible, and then got a bit easier, and by the end of our second lunchtime lesson they reluctantly let go and I cycled unassisted about 30 metres on grass, shouting, “This is fun!” By the fourth, I was going over speedbumps, but I still couldn’t actually turn corners without coming off.

And so, to Denmark. On our last day we signed up to the Bycyklen scheme – a bit like Boris Bikes here in London – and the cycles are cool; battery-powered with an electric motor and GPS (GPS!). They were also much heavier than the simple fixie I had been learning on. I want to say that I jumped on that bike and tore up the streets of Nyhavn. I want to, but I can’t, because what actually happened was that I got on, and ten minutes later I was stood next to a canal, sobbing uncontrollably (the kind you do *at* someone, loudly). I simply couldn’t do it. A little later, when we could laugh about it, I asked my boyfriend what he was thinking watching me wheel off. His reply: “Do we have enough Krone to cover the cost of an X-ray?”

Kat cycling on a lawn

Failing felt horrible. But really, I didn’t fail. I got on a bike and went a little way, which is much more than I could do a few months ago. Yes, I thought it would be easier to pick up a skill as an adult but the fact that it wasn’t makes me want to keep going (and utilise things like Halford’s adult stabilisers and workshops). I’d like to be able to go for a cycle because I fancy it and I learnt how and I can, instead of just giving up because I’m scared of going wrong again. It took me six years to learn Latin and I don’t use it much, but whenever I do – usually to explain crude Victorian toilet humour – I’m genuinely proud.

And then, I’m going to learn more things I can’t do – yet – like cook properly and hang shelves. All this stuff might not be exactly like learning to ride a bike (let’s bin that phrase now) but I reckon it’s worth giving it a go.

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