Learning to Ride a Bike in Adulthood

Editors: This article was originally published in Issue 166 of our quarterly Tube Times magazine, one of many perks of membership in the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Not a member? Join today.

“I’m doing it! Holy cow, I’m riding!”

A woman we’ll call Grace pedals for the first time across a broad expanse of pavement. Her husband and two young children leap up from their camp chairs and cheer. It’s an exhilarating moment that we never tire of witnessing.

Grace is a student in the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Adult Learn to Ride class, one of our most popular Bicycle Education classes. For the first time, we’ve begun to offer the class in the southeast of the city, in collaboration with NOW Hunters Point, a decommissioned PG&E substation in Bayview-Hunters Point that has been cleaned up and reborn as a community events space.

For years, we’ve been offering this class on the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park, which is centrally located for much of the city. But the park is not convenient for residents of southeast San Francisco, because of distance and transit routes that do not make it an easy trek. Shifting some of our on-bike classes to the southeast is one small step in our commitment to making classes accessible and equitable for everyone in SF. The first class at NOW Hunters Point was held in July, and a second followed in November.

So who are the adults who take these classes? Most people who take our Adult Learn to Ride classes think they’re the only ones who have reached adulthood without learning to ride a bike. When they arrive at a class full of people in their 20s to 60s or older, from all different backgrounds, they know they have arrived at a place where they will be supported, not judged.

Another common fear adults have is that they will have to learn on bikes with training wheels. Our approach is very different. First, we remove pedals, then lower saddles to a height where students can put both feet flat on the ground. New learners start off walking with their weight on the saddle, feeling their balance on two wheels. They take bigger and bigger steps until they’re coasting and steering. Gradually we reintroduce their pedals. Before they know it, they’re like Grace, doing something they thought they’d never learn: pedaling across the asphalt, feeling the freedom and joy of riding a bike.

To learn more about our bike education programs, sign up for the newsletter at sfbike.org/edu.

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