Why I Finally Learned To Ride A Bike At The Age Of 35

by Mike Bederka
Originally Published: 

On June 1, 2013—10 days before the birth of my second child—I kicked my two-wheeled demon. I finally learned how to ride a bike after three decades of bruises to my knees and my ego.

Growing up in the suburbs of North Jersey in the ’80s, I missed the rite of passage of taking off the training wheels and wobbling around the corner as my parents hooted and hollered in the growing distance.

I just fell. A lot.

All my neighborhood friends picked it up with no problem and rode back and forth to elementary school with ease. For whatever reason, I couldn’t get the hang of it. I tried and tried, and eventually the frustration got the best of me. I just quit to let the bike rust in my weed-filled backyard.

I resigned myself to the fact that I would never ride a bike. If I saw a heap of bikes at my neighbor’s house, I stayed away, guessing they would be likely zipping off at a moment’s notice. I knew I couldn’t join my friends, and as I much as I hated it, situations like this became the new normal for me.

Getting my driver’s license in 1995 gave me a reprieve and saved me somewhat from any continued embarrassment. Kids didn’t bike that much anymore, and I could easily hide my balance deficiency. That continued into college and beyond, where I just walked and drove wherever I could.

I cruised along this way until after graduation, when I finally revealed to my wife The Secret. While she understood, she said, “Enough. Time to learn.”

Then in my late 20s, I tried to exorcise the humiliation of the past, but it didn’t go well.

I just fell. A lot.

Teaching myself on my wife’s bike failed miserably, so I recruited the help of a friend, an avid cyclist. I figured if anyone could help me, it would be someone who logged hundreds of miles a year on two wheels. I stumbled, fumbled and tumbled up and down the empty Philadelphia side streets. A few bloody hours later, I thanked him with a six-pack of good beer and went home, still unable to master something that most 5- or 6-year-olds do with ease.

This failed attempt haunted me, and I didn’t think of trying again for years. My wife then interrupted my extended funk by sending me info on an adult biking class offered by a city bike organization. This, I thought, is how I do it. All these people are just like me.

They were, in fact, just like me–except after the class, they learned to ride.

I just fell. A lot.

Again, I was a 6-year-old kid in North Jersey with all his friends biking around without him. If I can’t get it after an adult learn-to-ride class, I don’t know what’s left, I thought.

The funk continued.

After some heated arguments, my wife insisted that buying a bike and practicing on my own might help. Out of options, I went ahead and picked up a bike at the local shop. I sheepishly told the owner about my dilemma, hoping this old-time biking sage would have some pearl of wisdom to guide me on this long, troubled journey. He made some uncomfortable sex metaphor, and I gave him my $200 and walked the bike home.

I did practice, but by this point…you know how it goes.

Things changed, though, in 2009 when my son Sam was born. Up until then, learning to ride was always about me. I had inspiration now. Eventually, Sam would need someone to teach him, and I didn’t want to stay on the sidelines.

It took some time, though. With my daughter’s due date just days away, I finally built up enough courage to try another attempt at that adult biking class.

Proper motivation is a funny thing. Now, with images of my children in my head (or at least what I thought my daughter would look like), I was the one who wobbled around the corner as the instructors hooted and hollered in the growing distance. Finally, at age 35, I didn’t fall.

Today, more than two years later, I’m by no means an expert biker. I get a little freaked out when cars pull up alongside me or if I’m stuck behind a gaggle of tourists on Segways. However, I can still bike.

I took the training wheels off my son’s Huffy this summer, an emotional moment to say the least. Sam hasn’t learned to ride quite yet, but I know when he crashes, he’ll get right back up with me by his side.

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