WHEEL LIFE: When Riding A Bike Is Not ‘Just Like Riding A Bike’


At least I didn’t break my face.

That’s pretty much all I was looking for from my first bike-riding lesson at Treads Bicycle Outfitters in Aurora, far from where I live. (I wanted no one to know my secret shame.)

I’m in my 20s, and I don’t know how to ride a bike.

I grew up in South Texas, where the climate is ideal for staying indoors. In November, the temperature still hovers in the low-90s with typically 50-60 percent humidity. So you can imagine what the weather is like in summer, when most kids here embrace their handlebars and hit the paths.

It also probably doesn’t help that my family was kind of poor. I never felt like I was missing out on anything. My parents provided plenty to eat, a safe place to live, toys and I always got killer hand-me-downs from my older sisters (who definitely have a better sense of style than I do).

But I also knew to never ask for anything that cost more than $100. Not that my parents wouldn’t have worked their butts off to get me something I really wanted, but I knew we couldn’t afford anything big so I never asked. And honestly, biking was never something I felt like I was missing out on. In my mind it was like walking really fast, but on two dubiously teetering wheels. And I was in no rush to get anywhere, so why bother?

Now I’m in a state with gorgeous views and killer weather and health nuts on every corner. Side note to all the restaurants selling gluten-free corn tortillas to impressionable Coloradans: That’s not a thing, most corn tortillas are already gluten-free.

Anyway, I called up Treads and asked the most embarrassing question of my journalism career: Can you teach an adult how to ride a bike?

There was a pause and then a chuckle. “We don’t typically offer bike lessons, to children or adults, but we can help you out.”

Gravy. I was on my way to being a near-native Coloradan.

So I stopped by on a blissful autumn day, sneakers on my feet and butterflies in my stomach. I don’t do well in scenarios where I don’t know what I’m doing with 100 percent certainty.

I was greeted by Treads’ veteran bike guru Gene Hodges, who has been in the bike business longer than I’ve been alive. He would be guiding me in my evolution to becoming a two-wheeler.

“You’re small.”

Yes, Gene, I am small, but my feet do touch the ground when I’m standing. My stature and my ability to keep my feet on the ground would later prove to be an issue.

We started off with the basics: putting on a helmet and getting it to fit right, and pedaling.

Bicycle seats suck. All this money and technology and I have to sit on an anvil?  What the heck, Cannodale? It didn’t feel too uncomfortable at first but, admittedly, my butt was a not happy in the days that followed.

Gene set the bike onto a stand that kept the wheels stationary as I mounted and got a feel for the pedals. He put the seat as low as it would go, but my sneakers barely grazed the floor when they needed to. Alas, being 4-feet-11-and-almost-one-half-inches tall would prove to be difficult in this saga.

Pedaling was quite fun. It was relaxing. Like a mechanical dance.

The relaxation abruptly ended, though. We took the teal Cannondale outside and found a nice covert spot in a parking lot behind some businesses.

The first thing Gene helped me figure out was how to turn in the direction I felt like I was leaning. A counterintuitive move, but not unlike turning a car when you’re hydroplaning. He held the bike from the back and leaned it to the left, to the right, to the left, over and over again as I turned in the correct direction with the handlebars.

And then things got awkward.

You know those super cute photos of dads pushing their 5-year-olds on their first big-kid bike with some fall foliage in the background and a happy grin on the kid’s face? Yeah, it’s a lot less endearing to do that as a 20-something with a strange man. OK, not strange, Gene was actually very nice and friendly, but it was still awkward on top of awkward.

Gene held the bike from the back as I attempted to pedal and balance this metal beast. While for most people, it’s just like riding a bike, for me, it’s just like doing a million things at once and none of them right. Poor guy was huffing and puffing after a few runs because this was an adult-size bike and I’m an adult-size human he was helping hold up (OK, my weight and height make me more the size of a 12-year-old boy, but still much heavier than a tot).

I skidded a lot because any time I felt off-balance I turned the wheel and used the brake because I had no desire to munch pavement on a bike Gene had graciously loaned for the lesson. It was a work in progress to say the least.  A brief shout-out, here, to the employees who were taking a break in the parking lot and witnessed my cycling struggle. One particular man kept giving me words of encouragement, like a dad cheering on his kid at his first Little League game. I’m not going to lie, I needed that.

Eventually, we came to the conclusion that I needed to 1. Try balancing on grass first and 2. This bike was too tall for me to learn on. So we ended up trading the teal big-girl bike for one intended for adolescents. Cool.

I rode down a grassy incline with my feet off the pedals, focusing on balancing. I felt much more self-assured because my feet could completely touch the ground if I felt unsteady. Also, it wasn’t pavement, so I felt better about the prospect of falling.

At the end of the lesson, I still couldn’t ride a bike with the confidence and balance of an energetic, granola-munching Boulderite, but I think I managed to ride for a solid 10 seconds without Gene holding onto the bike, and that was good enough for me.

I think I’ll roll with it.