“Why Can’t I Learn to Ride a Bike?”

How often as adults do we get to experience something truly brand new? As we rack up experience, the realm of novel sensations and adventures seems to get smaller, and the wonder of discovery that we had in our youth seems ever more elusive. Perhaps that’s why many of us love our bikes: they transport us back to the rush of exploration.

For recent Bicycle Education student Soo Lee, the bike truly was a conveyance to new experience. In the spring, she had never been on a bicycle before. By September, she was rolling through the streets of San Francisco like she was born on two wheels (almost!). She was kind enough to share with us her story.

SF Bicycle Coalition: At the beginning of the summer, you didn’t know how to ride a bike at all. What made you decide that it was time for you to learn?

Soo: I’ve always wanted to learn how to ride a bike. People often assume that most adults know how to ride a bike. I didn’t learn as a kid, and I’d never been on a bike before this summer. I asked myself, “Why can’t I learn how to ride a bike?” and I couldn’t think of one good reason. A friend who volunteered a lot at the SF Bicycle Coalition mentioned that there are adult beginner classes offered for free, so I thought I’d check it out. I am so glad I did!

Can you tell us about your experience with the Adult Learn to Ride class?

I was super nervous beforehand! I was kind of embarrassed and didn’t really know what to expect. As soon as I got there, I felt relieved — there were beginners like me, with little to no experience. Some people had learned as kids, but hadn’t been on a bike for years, and they wanted to refresh their skills. You start with a low seat and no pedals (so you can stop whenever you want) and learn how to balance on the bike naturally. You first learn to glide, which is super exciting, then the instructors put on one pedal, then the other.

I think what I liked the most is that they really understand what it’s like to not know how to ride a bike. It’s like the difference between knowing how to speak English and being able to teach an adult how to speak English: most people don’t remember what it was like to learn how to speak the language, they just know how to speak it. So it was nice that the instructors knew what it took and how to help everyone.

Soon afterwards, you took the Traffic Skills 101 sequence (the Classroom class and the On-Road class). What did you find most useful about each of those classes?

One of the biggest things I gained is confidence! I am a naturally anxious person, and I was terrified of the road. The Classroom class was extremely helpful. I learned basic road rules and laws, plus of a ton of safety tips. I’m a visual learner, so it helped that there were scenarios and videos. I also appreciated that they went over San Francisco-specific guidelines and tips, because the city is unique. The instructor kept telling us to watch out for the train tracks. I didn’t understand until I went on a group ride a couple weeks after, got stuck, and fell — thankfully very slowly. While it was happening, I thought it was so hilarious! I kept thinking, “This is what he meant!!”

The On-Road class was helpful because there were DRILLS! It was a ton of real life practice that eased me into riding more on the streets. The SF Bicycle Coalition supported me through my whole bike journey. I didn’t just learn how to ride a bike; I learned how to safely navigate the city.

What advice or encouragement would you give to an adult who doesn’t ride a bike, like you recently were?

Don’t be intimidated! There’s a ton of beginners out there, of all ages, just trying to learn. The SF Bicycle Coalition has a ton of helpful classes regardless of where you’re at with bicycles. Also, no one is judging you. I was embarrassed at first, but, honestly, even strangers would come up to me when I was practicing to tell me how awesome it was that I was learning something new. I’d also say take advantage of Golden Gate Park on Sundays, since there are no cars on JFK Drive.

Successfully learning how to ride a bike has led me to many other new beginnings because I started to try out so many other things I was afraid of trying. I did a half-marathon this summer for the first time, baked my first bread from scratch, went horseback riding, and started to learn how to play ukulele — all things I’ve never done before and probably wouldn’t have tried if it weren’t for the success I had with bike riding.

Are you or someone you know ready to turn over a new leaf on two wheels? No matter your level of (in)experience, we have the free bike education class waiting for you. RSVP to save your spot today!

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