When you are a beginner, it is natural to believe that the struggles you face are normal and that you will get better with practice. This is how I approached riding a bike again as an adult. I know how to ride a bicycle (does one ever really forget 😉 ), but I am rusty as my days as a 5th grader on a bright pink bike with shiny ribbons are long behind me. While I expected my first few rides on the streets of Boston to be a bit rocky in the beginning, I did not expect the struggle I faced when I spent a day huffing and puffing on the streets of Roslindale and Jamaica Plain (more here).
When I picked up my ‘new’ used bike a few weeks ago, I had my helmet in hand and I was ready to take the streets by storm. Perhaps I was impetuous in my pursuits because it slipped my mind to bring a bike lock, which meant my very first ride was a trip to Target to pick one up. On the way, I struggled to make it up even a slight hill, fell forward on my hands when I tried to make a turn, and was utterly exhausted even before I reached my destination. I could not believe how out-of-shape that I felt! I am a moderately active individual, jog (semi-) regularly, and even (meekly) do strength training from time to time. To learn that my leg muscles and lungs were not up to the biking challenge was a shock that made me consider my overall fitness.
Despite this wobbly, painful, and strenuous experience, I resolved myself that my incompetence behind the handlebars was simply a personal shortcoming. So, on two other occasions I took out my bike in my neighborhood and attempted a short ride. Even though my destination was clear in sight (a straight line actually) and the round trip was literally no more than 17 minutes, I could not believe how worn out that I felt at the end of a trip that I could have completed more quickly jogging. I was feeling incredibly frustrated that kids no taller than my waist could out bike me with happy smiles and without a drop of sweat on their eager faces. Is this what old feels like? Did I neglect a muscle group responsible for the pumping of the pedals?
I thought back to my childhood biking adventures. As children, my siblings and I would bike around our elementary school ad nauseum and go up and down the hills. What had changed since then?
At this point, I began to consider that there was something wrong with my bike. This was a foldable bike with small wheels, which is different than the bike that I used as a child. So, I took to the internet to figure out whether this foldable bike was the problem. Although some people had opinions about smaller wheeled bicycles, the consensus was that the smaller wheel diameter would contribute only to a bumpier ride not a more strenuous one. Then, I considered that I had just bought a bad bike. How foolish was I not to do my research beforehand!? However, finally, I stopped to think that perhaps the problem was with the tires.
I bought a bike pump online, learned how to use the device, and figured out at what pressure my tires should be. After receiving the pump, I hesitantly made my way downstairs to perform the procedure. After several minutes (it was an awkward process, as I had to keep looking up how-to info online), I got the tires to a much fuller state. I walked my bike outside and hopped on. I IMMEDIATELY felt the different. Oh, my goodness – is this what bike riding is supposed to feel like!? My oh my, it was glorious. Instead of an agonizing leg and lung exercise, the ride felt delightful! I went further than I had ever gone and felt invigorated rather than worn out at the end of the ride.
I am the sort of person who tries to start and complete new things on my own. Many times, I encounter success, but other times I struggle needlessly. This was one of those times. This experience has taught me that it is important to ask for help and feedback from others. Just a quick question to any friend that has ever ridden a bike would probably have alleviated my struggles quite quickly.
Either way, I’m glad that I was able to resolve the problem and I look forward to more leisurely (!) bike rides in the future.