It’s Like Riding a Bike

Today, I rode a bike. It was a bubble gum pink beach cruiser with fat tires and a wide seat. I rode on the bike path that hugs the coastline from downtown Monterey, California out past the Great Tide Pool in Point Pinos. It’s about a 10-mile round trip journey.

Why is this worthy of a blog post? Bike riding terrifies me.

You know those crippling anxious feelings some people have about public speaking, heights or riding a roller coaster? That’s how I feel about bike riding.

The expression, “it’s like riding a bike,” means that once a skill is learned it is never forgotten. In my case, it’s not just the muscle memory of bike riding that I never forgot, but the anxiety that always accompanied it.

It all stems from my childhood epilepsy. Based on medical advice, which I assume at the time, was considered to be sound; I was forbidden to ride a bike. It took me a few years to convince the pediatric neurologist to clear me for bike riding. Once he did, when I was 10 or 11 years old, it was with one caveat — I had to wear a helmet. Nowadays, helmets are mostly a given and even required by law in some states. However, in the early-to-mid 1980s, it wasn’t exactly the norm. It also wasn’t the sleek helmets that are available now. Think of the Rick Moranis character of “Dark Helmet” from the “Spaceballs” movie. Now, imagine that the helmet is red with a sharp, inflexible thick plastic white chinstrap. That was the far-from-cool headgear I had to deal with.

So, me and my gigantic red helmet learned how to ride a bike when I was about a decade old.
Yes, I got looks, stares and even mocked.
Yes, I cared that was happening to me.

Between a couple of unfortunate wipeouts and the general social ostracization of it all, bike riding became that thing that other people did.

After a handful of half-hearted attempts to conquer this fear, it wasn’t until I turned 43 that I really started to proactively slay this two-wheeled dragon.

I’d ask myself, what’s really the worst that could happen?
I could get hit by a car and die.
I could wipe out and get injured.
Or, I could be less dramatic and have a pleasant experience while gaining confidence.

Slowly, I began to chip away at conquering that fear. In June of this year, I rode a bike through the streets of Boston. Me. On a bike. On real streets. In Boston.

The next month, in July, I rode a bike a few times on the Schuylkill River Trail during lunch. Me. On a bike. During lunch. In Philadelphia.

That brings me to today’s biking adventure. I told the bike shop employee that I might be back in five or ten minutes. I then nervously chattered on about being a novice bike rider and something traumatic might happen to me and I would turn around and not be gone very long. The shop clerk smiled at me sweetly and said, “I’m not here to judge you. You take however long or short as you want. But, if you do only take five or ten minutes, please know that I still have to charge you the whole hour.” Fair enough.

As I clumsily pedaled away from the shop, she yelled to me, “I believe in you!”

Bolstered by her non-judgmental bike shop employee confidence in me, I completed my 10-mile ride without incident and only with minimal fear.
Well … manageable fear.

A very wise person reminded me yesterday, over a lunch of giant burritos, that we all have impediments to happiness. It’s the ability to recognize and then chip away at those impediments is what matters.

The happiness that I received from letting go of the fear and feeling the wind in my face on that bike was my motivation to keep pedaling.

Slowly, but surely, the muscle memory of bike riding is what I will retain more than the stressors of it. What I am finally understanding, after all these years, is that multiple earnest attempts at conquering something add up. Those attempts then start to squeeze out insecurities, fears and anxieties. You know, the things that prohibited enjoyment of that activity in the first place.

What would you do, if you weren’t afraid?
Go on, try it again and keep at it.
Soon, it will be as natural to you as riding a bike.

Conquering bike riding fears, one beach cruiser at a time.

(Originally published 25 October 2015 at LibrarySherpa.com)

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