Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Comment of the week: Conquering the fear of starting to bike

Posted by on July 11th, 2014 at 1:30 pm

(Tuesday’s comment of the week was a catch-up from last Friday’s holiday, so we’re now back to the regular schedule.)

Talia Jacobson’s guest post about biking while clumsy — in her case, the result of learning to ride in adulthood — drew a heartwarming wave of true confessions and upbeat encouragements from readers to Talia and (mostly) to one another. The one that stuck in my own head was probably this short recollection from Dave, who fearlessly described his emotions as he learned to ride.

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One of my favorite things about cycling is the opportunity it gave me to get over some of those things. I was honestly terrified at the idea of riding across Powell near my house – not because of saftety, but because I’d have to wait for the light, wait for traffic to stop, and then ride across in front of all those people. All of whom I pictured cursing me from their air conditioned cars for requesting a light and slowing them down, for looking like a dork, for being out of shape and klutzy and riding a dusty bike my mom bought me 10 years before.

Eventually, just like quitting smoking, I had to get mad about it. Why be afraid of something so many people obviously genuinely enjoy? Why give a crap what other people think? I could hurt myself in a car; I could hurt myself sitting at home watching TV. And yeah, people in Portland do take it too seriously at times. But that doesn’t mean you have to. Doing something stupid or embarrassing yourself just proves you’re not a cold hearted robot.

Here’s to a lifetime of suppressing our inner robot and giving ourselves permission to enjoy the things we want to.

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  • Dan July 11, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    People react to hearing about my commute like I’m travelling to the moon. I have to point out that I didn’t just wake up one day & decide to start riding from Beaverton to the Lloyd district — it took me 10 months of riding small loops inside my neighborhood, then getting comfortable escaping the mini-highways that surrounded my house (Hwy 26/Murray/Walker/185th), then riding MUPs like Banks-Vernonia and Springwater, until finally TRYING to ride to work one time. And it was another 2 weeks after that before I felt ready to try it for a 2nd time.

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    • dr2chase July 12, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      My method was completely backwards from that. I knew, from racing and time-trialing as a kid, that “old” people were perfectly capable of riding 10+ miles with no serious effort. So, one weekend I rode to work and back, nowhere near in shape. It really sucked. But I knew that it took a little time, and that 10 miles (well, 20, for the round trip) was no big deal, so I kept at it, minimum twice per week. And after a couple of months it sucked less. Took a year before I wasn’t put off the Big Hill (300′) for the optional route that was 5 minutes faster. It did a heck of a lot for my health in a hurry, so when the first winter came I decided I would do whatever it took to keep riding, and got snow tires, and good lights for the winter dark, and various bits of gear.

      But now, it’s all just riding, enough that instead of thinking “do I have everything I need for my ride? is it going to rain?” before hopping on the bike, now, before I drive, I worry “what’s the traffic like where I’m going? am I going to get stuck in a traffic jam? will I find parking?”

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  • Daly July 11, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    I agree, Dan. I encourage people to take small steps. It took me several months to get use to riding to work every day.

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  • 9watts July 11, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    As someone who’s been biking since I was about 8 years old, I’m intrigued by the stories from folks who didn’t learn until much later, and the difficulties some of you experienced. If you have a kid, don’t wait to teach them!

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    • Pete July 12, 2014 at 3:00 pm

      Absolutely, and also… ditch the training wheels! Start ’em small and use a balance bike, or better yet one of these cool toys:

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  • PennyFarthing July 13, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    Not teaching your kids how to ride a bike is just poor parenting…almost like not teaching them how to swim.

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    • 9watts July 13, 2014 at 10:09 pm


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  • John Liu
    John Liu July 14, 2014 at 1:53 pm

    The process the adult learners are going through sounds a lot like what kid learners go through. At first they fall over a lot, sometimes for no reason, then they learn to shift and brake and maneuver. Their first ride is up and down the street, then around the neighborhood, one day they ride to the store for some milk and before you know it they are riding their bikes to the local school and then across town. The difference is that kids are more used to falling down and to being in unfamiliar, confusing situations. They are plastic and adventuresome. So, ride your bike like a kid.

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