Like Learning to Ride a Bike
January 22, 2005 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Learning to ride a bicycle at the age of 30. Yup and I need to do it alone, unfortunately not because of embarassment (quickly offset by benefit) but because none of my friends *gasp* know how to ride one ! I looked for courses in my city with no luck. Anybody ever did so ? Tips, tricks ?
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (32 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Just get on the bike, and try riding it without falling down. Which you'll be doing plenty of. You'll probably want some pads in that case.
posted by angry modem at 10:34 AM on January 22, 2005

The only method I know of is to get on and go. Wear knee- and elbowpads and a helmet When I learned, that is how I did it. I would also have the seat on the bike a little low so your feet can come down whenever you need them to.

Try to get a dirt bike with 20 inch wheels, seat adjusted so your feet can easily touch the ground. You want to try to get a bike with handbrakes and no gears, so like a freestyle bike.

Good luck. When you get it, it is immediate, like lightning.
posted by oflinkey at 10:36 AM on January 22, 2005

Here would be my plan.
1. Go to a gym and ride a stationary bike to see what it is like.
2. Get a regular bike, find a nice wide open space where the ground isn't slippery or sandy. You can ride on grass which will make falling more likely but less painful, or take your changes on a hard surface like a blacktop parking lot or a big driveway.
3. Wear a helmet and knee and wrist and elbow goards.
4. Sit on the bike and practice balancing with the handlebars straight ahead.
5. Using this same balanced posture, start pedaling hard. This will be scary as all hell but you have to commit. Keep the handle bars straight ahead and pedal in a rhythm. If a friend accompanies you they can run alongside and make sure you don't fall. Strong friends work best for this I guess.
6. Alternately, if you ever do find a knowledgeable friend, rent a bicycle built for two and let them basically control it, just pedal along in a rhythm with them until you get the hang of it.
7. The physics of bicycle riding are failsafe. If you pedal hard and have good posture and keep the handle bars straight, you will not fall. Have faith in this.
8. Gradually try turning the handle bars to steer.
posted by mai at 10:40 AM on January 22, 2005

You could always start where the kids start? Training wheels, gradually loosened as you get used to balancing?
I did a quick google for "adult training wheels" and there are some options out there. Just an thought.
posted by sarahmelah at 10:48 AM on January 22, 2005

Can you get someone to hold onto the seat and run along behind you? If your dad is not available, maybe one of your non-bike riding friends can help.
posted by jennyb at 10:51 AM on January 22, 2005

I find this fascinating as a question because I've always wondered what it would be like to learn to ride a bike as an adult; I learned at about age 5; pretty much taught myself because my parents didn't ride bikes either (poor NYC kids); if I learned now, I would hope that I'd rely on the physics of the activity to limit my fear.

Cycling is primarily physics, rather than coordination (at least above ~ 5mph), so just remember that: you're attached to two gyroscopes!

Since I don't think there are training wheels for big bikes (the idea would be to use just one, and then lean off the extra wheel until you realized what was going on...), I would just get some hybrid bike, and find some stretch of pavement, ideally next to some grass (sorry, but hope you're not in a blizzard). The modern offerings of pads seem like things will be easier. And no, I don't recall falling down much, so don't don't think that's inevitable.

Good luck. Cycling is one of the joys of life!
posted by ParisParamus at 10:54 AM on January 22, 2005

Can you get someone to hold onto the seat and run along behind you? If your dad is not available, maybe one of your non-bike riding friends can help.

I second this. Also, tell your non-bike riding friend to let go, when s/he's thinks you've picked it up, without telling you he's letting go. Most likely you won't notice until you look back and see them standing there 30 feet away. That's how I learned (when I was a kid).
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:57 AM on January 22, 2005

Oh: some other ideas (which may be overkill, but who knows). Cyclists train on rollers; essentially a treadmill for a bike. Because this allows stationary cycling, it would allow a friend to prevent from falling; and you'd have much of the mechnics down before even going outside. On the other hand, I've heard (never used them myself) that rollers are somewhat awkward at first, even for experienced cyclists, but if I had unlimited funds (~$200), I'd definitely try this.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:58 AM on January 22, 2005

Hey! You're me, except I'm 34. And, you know, not anonymous.

I bought a bike last week. I haven't died yet. It's terrifying, but also exhilarating.

I don't think I'd be comfortable with someone holding the seat, actually... for me, it's more about trusting my brakes and knowing that I can just stop the bike and put my feet down at any moment if I'm not comfortable. It might be helpful to go to your local bike store and see if anyone there might be able to give you some pointers. If they don't know where to point you for lessons, maybe you can just hire someone from the store for an hour or so of coaching.
posted by judith at 11:04 AM on January 22, 2005

It becomes unconscious, but what you're really doing to keep your balance is turning the wheel towards the side you're falling.
posted by glibhamdreck at 11:07 AM on January 22, 2005

Since no one has suggested this yet: Wear GLOVES. If you fall down and catch yourself with your hand, you don't want to lose a bunch of skin, or have a bunch of gravel become part of your hand.
posted by agropyron at 11:07 AM on January 22, 2005

Since I don't think there are training wheels for big bikes

There's these...

or these....

Granted there's not a whole lot out there, but I'm sure if you did some more digging, or asking around at bike shops...
posted by sarahmelah at 11:18 AM on January 22, 2005

My sympathies. I recently tried to learn skimboarding as a grown-up. All the falling made me glad that I already knew how to ride a bike.

Once you're on the bike and rolling forward, make every effort to keep your eyes about 30 feet ahead of you. Don't stare down at the pedals or wheels. Your powerful brain will actually make balance adjustments for you if you are looking ahead, while looking down will confuse your eyes and mess you up.

You can illustrate this dramatically with a waitress trick. Try walking across a room quickly with a hot cup of coffee. If you keep your eyes on the cup, you'll slosh hot coffee everywhere. But if you look up, keep your eyes ahead, and essentially ignore the coffee, you won't spill a drop. It's impressive.
posted by Miko at 11:23 AM on January 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

As others have pointed out, the key is balance. I disagree that sitting on a stationary bike will teach you anything about balance on a moving bicycle though. Bicycles stay upright mostly on their own when they're moving.

I started off doing the "balance on a stationary bike" thing, gave up, got a scooter, putted around for a while, and when I finally tried a bicycle again a year later, it was totally intuitive. You just get the bike moving and hop on.
posted by Laen at 11:41 AM on January 22, 2005

Balance on a bicycle is primarily accomplished by steering. Shifting weight is insignificant, and the gyro effect is not huge.

Try putting your left foot on the left peddle and kick with your right foot. Keep doing that for a few laps of a running track or parking lot. This will teach you the basics of the balance/steering thing pretty well. (Remember, you are crossing your legs over, left foot on left peddle, or right foot on right peddle) Go as fast as you can, it won't take you long to learn to balance.

The next step, unfortunately, is get on and ride. You need to be able to kick hard once and be going fast enough that you have some time to get your feet on the peddles. This can't happen very well on grass. So despite the scraps and bruises problem practice on a hard surface.

I taught my girlfriend and her sister to ride in their 20s... We wasted a lot of time on grass... It wasn't helpful.
posted by Chuckles at 11:41 AM on January 22, 2005

Here is a method. Find a grassy, gentle slope. Lower the saddle on the bike until your feet can touch the ground while you are seated. Coast down the hill, without pedaling, letting your feet skim along just above the ground. Repeat. You will get the hang of balancing without the risk of falling, and you don't need to complicate the equation by pedaling yet.

Once you can do this with some confidence, try some gentle changes in direction. Don't yank on the handlebars, use a gentle shift of the hips. Once you can do this, raise the saddle a little and coast down the hill with your feet on the pedals. repeat as above. Finally, add pedaling. Keep practicing.

Have fun, cycling is the best.
posted by fixedgear at 11:46 AM on January 22, 2005 [3 favorites]

Lower the saddle on the bike until your feet can touch the ground while you are seated.

I was going to describe a method similar to fixedgear's. The key is to start low enough to be able to plant your feet on the ground at any time. You'll be fine from there on.
posted by magullo at 12:58 PM on January 22, 2005

To alleviate your fears somewhat (and reinforce ParisParimus' comment) go to a bike shop and get a loose front wheel. Grab it by the bearings and get it spinning while it's in a vertical position. Try to lay it flat. That aversion to changing it's axis is what keeps you upright when you're riding. You CAN overcome it, but it's not like you're literally balancing on two wheels with no assistance.
posted by substrate at 2:07 PM on January 22, 2005

I have actually done this and I have the definitive answer! :) I learned to ride a bike by myself when I was about 22.

1. Buy a bike. This will be hard because you won't be able to help the bike salesman fit you. I got a Gary Fisher Tiburon hybrid bike for about $250.

2. Remove the pedals with a wrench. The result will be an absolutely pedal-less bike.

3. Lower the seat as low as it will go.

4. Find a slightly graded field--not a steep hill. Practice 'running' the bike, and then lifting your feet up and balancing. Do this a lot. Eventually you will become totally comfortable keeping the bike balanced and it will be awesome.

5. Reattach the pedals. Stand straddling the bike (as though were 'running' it). Engage the brakes, and put your left foot on the left pedal and your right foot on the ground. Rotate the left pedal so that it is at the top of the downstroke (about 2 o'clock, looking at the bike from the left side). Then disengage the brakes; your weight will create the downstroke, and you can easily start pedaling. Off you go!

I taught myself to ride a bike this way a couple of years ago and have been happily riding since. The key is to remove the pedals. This makes learning a lot easier. Also, knowing how to get on the bike and start it going is a big help.

Other advice:

1. Steer by leaning, not by turning the handlebars.

2. Practice braking. Get going really fast, then stop on short notice. One of your brakes will be for your front wheel, one for your back wheel; use them both, but especially do not brake with only the front wheel. You need to learn how to brake because otherwise you will get into accidents because you don't squeeze the brakes hard enough.

3. Check out the articles by Sheldon Brown. They are a great help if you're teaching yourself to bike.

That's it! Good luck! You really can do it, it's great fun. Just for clarification, I learned how to ride by myself on a nice grassy field, which I highly recommend. After that find a big wide bike path. It took me a couple days of serious time commitment to get my balance in gear, so it won't happen in just one day. Also, you will almost definitely fall off and hurt yourself--wear a helmet and gloves.

For what it's worth, teaching yourself to ride a bike is fantastic and just like you'd imagine it; you fall, you get up, you fall, you get up, etc. It's like Beckett said: Try; fail; try again; fail again; try agian; fail better.
posted by josh at 6:13 PM on January 22, 2005 [4 favorites]

2. Remove the pedals with a wrench. The result will be an absolutely pedal-less bike.

Yep. This is how most of the wrenches and racers I know train their kids. After about a week of my son being totally pissed-off that he was having to scoot around on his new bike - I put the pedals on and he took off.

Training wheels are dangerous.
posted by rotifer at 6:44 PM on January 22, 2005

I can't add to the excellent advice offered (I did the pedal thing with my kids on the advice of a professional bike mechanic and it went excellently) but would like to offer my encouragement. Your going to have a blast, cycling is a great way to travel.

Anyway, this is something you only have to do once. Because, you know, you never forget.
posted by cedar at 7:43 PM on January 22, 2005

I learned how to ride as a little kid, so my own advice is of limited value, but:

1. Josh's advice all sounds spot-on to me.
2. The gyroscopic effect of the wheels is insignificant. However, once you get rolling, your overall momentum does help keep you from tipping over.
3. Rollers are difficult for experienced cyclists (until they get the hang of them). I would not start out with them. One advantage they do offer is that all crashes are at 0 mph.
4. Gloves, definitely. If you can borrow those wrist supports that rollerbladers use, those would be a good idea when starting out too.

I can remember when my dad took the training wheels off my bike--I was terrified. He held me steady as I got going and ran alongside me. I think I rode free of him in about 10 seconds, rode around the block as he ran next to me, and the rest is history.

Good luck and have fun.
posted by adamrice at 8:09 PM on January 22, 2005

Great advice here. Once you get going, remember to look where you WANT to go, if you look at obstacles you WILL hit them. Good luck!
posted by ig at 8:27 PM on January 22, 2005

Josh's remove-the-pedals method sounds great. It reminds me of how I learned to balance on a scooter.

The summer I got my first bike, I flopped around with those damn awkward training wheels, sloshing the handlebars desperately from side to side, and getting very impatient with the whole clumsy process.

Then we visited relatives and I picked up an old scooter in Grandpa's garage. Over a few days, I came to spend more time coasting versus time "paddling" with my left foot on the pavement. Without even knowing it, I'd learned the principle of balancing in two wheels. The very next time I got on a bike, I was off and rolling, ecstatic.
posted by Tubes at 12:05 AM on January 23, 2005

I don't see why you guys want to remove the pedals, but it can't hurt. If you do remove them remember that the left pedal has reverse threading, so "lefty loosy righty tighty" doesn't work over there...
posted by Chuckles at 1:29 AM on January 23, 2005

This is great, because I plan to teach my seven-year-old son how to ride this spring. Am I correct in assuming that training wheels aren't worth using?
posted by Eamon at 7:50 AM on January 23, 2005

Training wheels are not worth using. That is the "hardware" solution when really what you need is a "software" upgrade.
posted by fixedgear at 10:45 AM on January 23, 2005

Training wheels blow, IMHO. Kids somehow learn to balance despite the things, but I think it would be much easier to learn with the pedal-less coaster technique or a scooter.
posted by Tubes at 10:47 AM on January 23, 2005

I learnt to ride at age 37 using the method described by fixedgear and josh. It works well: it took me about half an hour to learn to keep my balance with no problems, I had one (comedy prat) fall the first time I tried to start pedaling and that was it.

I'd take issue with the bit about steering by leaning, though. That really only comes into play above about 10mph; below that you still have to steer normally. It's also quite an unnerving feeling when you're starting out - my first fast corners left me feeling like the bike was going to slide out from under me.

On the subject of bikes, a hybrid or mountain bike would be easier to start on than a road bike since the riding position is more upright and they feel less "tippy".
posted by arc at 2:42 PM on January 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Also something that doesn't seem to have been mentioned elsewhere is that the key to keeping your balance is to steer the bike back under yourself if you feel like you're starting to fall, rather than trying to compensate by steering in the other direction.

This seemed counter-intuitive to me until I actually did it, but knowing in advance what I was meant to do if I started to fall was a big help. And far less painful than having to discover it for myself.
posted by arc at 3:29 PM on January 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yup. I once heard it described this way: balancing a bike in motion is a matter of constantly catching the fall by steering into it.

At higher speeds it's less recognizable as such, but that's still what we're doing -- steering the bike back and forth under the center of balance. If you welded the handlebars in place, you could not balance and ride in a straight line.
posted by Tubes at 3:45 PM on January 23, 2005

The way my father taught my siblings and I was through a process of first becoming comfortable with a slow, balanced glide (seat lowered, feet off the pedals near the ground) before trying any sort of hard turning or self propulsion. A gentle incline in a paved schoolyard was the place we learned the basics - we were able to get a pretty good sense of balance on the bicycle in the course of a couple of afternoons.

Good luck!
posted by lpqboy at 11:28 AM on January 24, 2005

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