How To Learn To Ride A Bike As An Adult

How To Learn To Ride A Bike As An Adult
Illustration: Jim Cooke

Maybe your parents tried to teach you once when you were six years old, but you crashed into a tree and refused to ever get on a bike again. Or maybe no one ever tried to teach you—or you never wanted to learn. But now, several weeks into the pandemic, things have gotten boring. Your partner, your friends, your neighbours or your kids are pulling their bikes out and going on grand adventures around the neighbourhood, venturing farther than your feet alone can take you, and you’ve decided: It’s time to learn how to ride a bike.

Until a few weeks ago, I basically hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a teenager. But it is—as they say!—like … riding a bicycle. Not that it’s easy to learn, per se, but once you know how, you never forget. And after so much time stuck in the house, save for a few walks around the block and short drives to the grocery store, it feels like absolute freedom. So if you’re finally ready to learn, now is the time. You can do this!

First, you need a bike

You can borrow one to start, but it will need to be a good size for you. You should be able to swing your leg over the bike, sit on the seat and comfortably balance with your legs straight and both feet flat (or nearly flat) on the ground.

If you’re up on your toes, it will be harder to practice your balance; if the bike is too short, though, you’ll have a hard time pedalling. Adjust the seat up or down to get a comfortable height.

Try the Schitt’s Creek method

“It is one foot on the pedal and one foot on the ground, and then get the hell out of here!”

I’m kidding, I don’t actually recommend this. I’m just binging this show right now and love this scene and had to share. (“The pedals make it move more!”)

OK, anyway…

Start with a little coasting

Find a wide open, flat, paved surface like a low-traffic side street, path or parking lot. With your feet on the ground, ignore the pedals completely and start to walk/ride the bike by pushing off with your feet. As you gain a little speed, lift your legs up a bit to start to get a feel for balancing with your upper body.

Try to resist the urge to stop with the skidding-your-feet-on-the-ground method; instead, practice stopping by using the handle brakes. You’re building an instinct to brake with your hands, which will be important once you’re moving a little faster.

Put one foot on a pedal

Once you feel comfortable coasting and balancing with both feet, rest one foot on a pedal and push/coast with the other like you’re riding a scooter. This will help you transition from gaining speed with the ground to gaining speed via the pedals. Coast along this way until you feel your speed and balance is comfortable enough to pull the other foot up and start pedalling.

Visuals always help with something like this, so watch this video of a very sweet guy teaching his friend to ride a bike:

I remember when my father-in-law was teaching my son how to ride his bike, he gave the most excellent advice: “Pedal, pedal, pedal!” It can feel counterintuitive to pedal quickly when you’re first starting out (you’re nervous!), but the pedalling is what gives you the momentum and the momentum is what you need to stay balanced—so keep those feet moving.

And finally, be sure you wear a helmet but don’t be too afraid to fall—there’s a good chance you won’t fall at all, but even if you do, the worst you’re likely to get is a little bruise or scrape to show for your efforts.

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