A Sunday afternoon, mostly cloudy with an occasional break in the clouds for some sun. Warm, with a light breeze coming off the Anacostia River. Kids zooming past on their scooters, while a nervous group of adults shifted their weight back and forth beside their balance bikes.
I was in that group of nervous adults, trying to itch my head through a helmet. It wasn’t working. So, I focused on other things: a short mantra that I repeated in my head.
Today, I’m going to learn to ride a bike.
I want to attribute successfully learning how to ride a bike to my sheer determination. I really do. I want to believe that because I’m 23 and tenacious, anything I put my mind to, I will do. (I mean, there’s truth to that.) But to say that I learned how to ride a bike because of me, and only me, would be a lie.
I learned because of everyone else around me that day.
Let’s back up a moment, shall we?
My name is Carm Saimbre and I’m the new communications coordinator at WABA.
(Yes, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, they hired me knowing that I couldn’t ride a bike. Yes, I’m surprised they hired me, too.)
When I started working here in February, I just knew that I had to learn to ride. I didn’t feel pressured; the opportunity was simply perfect. Girl doesn’t know how to ride a bike, girl gets hired by bike organization, bike organization offers Learn to Ride classes. Natural order of things, no?
In a Learn to Ride class, everyone starts with a balance bike without pedals. Until our lead League Cycling Instructor (LCI) Mike told us that our bikes didn’t have pedals, I hadn’t noticed. At that moment, I was confused. Was I actually going to learn how to ride…without…pedals?
And the answer was, yes. Yes, I was.
We walked our bikes to one end of a parking lot at Anacostia Park. Our instructors had blocked off a portion of the lot with bright orange cones, providing us with plenty of room to glide. And glide we did—with our legs out in a triangle shape, we rolled up and down, without a care in the world.
Slowly, we shed our nerves and embraced the freedom of two wheels. I watched as women older than me propelled forward and threw all caution to the wind, laughing and cheering each other on. I found myself laughing, too.
After the first break, Mike taught us how we would use the first pedal. I would use my non-pedal leg to steady myself and push off with my pedal leg. Same idea: glide until I needed to stop.
For someone who was learning to ride, the skills came naturally. I even thought to myself, “Hey, you might actually ride with two pedals today!”
Ambitious, I know.
After riding around with one pedal, Steve (one of the LCIs present) said I was ready for two pedals. Whoa. I was?
Steve installed the second pedal and adjusted my seat again. I hopped back on my bike. This time, a weird buzz zipped through my body.
“Pedal at two o’clock,” I said to myself, putting my right foot on top of the right pedal. My left leg was steady on the ground. “Push, and….”
One rotation turned into two. I found the left pedal with my left foot. The wheels kept turning. My hands never left the handlebars. Any worries, fears, doubts—gone. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t scared.
I was light.
I was free.
I was riding a bike!
Behind me, I could hear the LCIs cheering me on, but they were distant in my ears. It felt like I was moving in slow motion, as I saw the park through my own eyes, not through a car windshield. I was moving myself by own strength.
And I wanted to live in that moment forever.
When the class ended, we gave ourselves a round of applause, thanked the instructors and went our separate ways. Once I got back to my car, I sat there for a little bit. Three hours on a Sunday afternoon and I’d successfully learned to ride a bike. Even some of the instructors couldn’t believe it. I could hardly believe it.
But why does my particular Learn to Ride experience matter? You could argue it doesn’t—other adults learned to ride that day, too. From the moment I took off my helmet for the day, I knew I had a responsibility to share my experience.
WABA took a risk in hiring me, a person who couldn’t ride a bike. Sure, communications work is by no means tied to my ability to pedal, but knowing how to ride definitely provides insight as to how to do my work better. How can we reach people like myself? People who wish to learn, but don’t know about our Learn to Ride classes? People who think it’s too late to learn?
Risks are what it takes to grow, and I’m willing to take all the risks to inspire more people to learn how to ride a bike. It’s never too late, there’s always enough time, and someone is ready to teach you!