It’s not true what they say about riding a bike. You can forget.
My dad taught me to ride when I was a kid, but after a particularly nasty tumble, I wheeled my hand-me-down pink banana-seat into the garage and became a permanent pedestrian. Two decades later, as a writer/victim for this “learn to” assignment, I find Kristin Gavin, who runs Gearing Up, a nonprofit that helps women in transition (from homelessness, addiction, abuse) learn to ride safely in the city. She’ll reteach me, she promises. And she’s unconcerned about my anxiety: “We know that we’re going to keep you as safe as we can,” she says. “And we know how awesome it’s going to be for you.”
First lesson: I can’t even balance long enough to get both feet on the pedals. (Not awesome.) Kristin lowers the seat and instructs me to scoot down an alley, using both feet to propel forward. Three successful trips later, Kristin suggests I try pedaling. I’m skeptical that 15 minutes of wobbling could prepare me for the open road, but I tentatively perch one foot on a pedal and push off. To my amazement, the other foot lands in exactly the right spot. I’m riding!
The euphoria lasts 25 seconds before I realize I have no idea how to stop. We spend the rest of the afternoon on braking.
Second lesson: Kristin thinks I can handle a short excursion, so we head west on Spring Garden, where I must pay attention to cars, other bikes, pedestrians and traffic signals. (I thank God—and Mayor Nutter—for bike lanes.) I grip the handlebars so tightly that my knuckles hurt, but don’t fall once.
Third lesson: Kristin’s assistant rides with me to my office. Everything goes smoothly—even considering Market Street’s morning rush—but I spend the rest of that day fretting over …
The test: My final “lesson” is a solo ride from my office (19th and Market) to the Gearing Up headquarters (12th and Vine). I call Kristin for the best route, then try my cycling friends, hoping someone can offer an alternate with no human or vehicle interaction. No such luck.
When I arrive unscathed, I’m proud and surprised: Not only am I not dead, but in less than a week I’ve gone from not being able to pedal to navigating Center City on a bicycle. If only I still had that pink banana-seat …
Gearing Up only teaches women in transition how to ride bikes; for more info or to support, see gearing-up.org.