How many new skills have you been acquiring lately? If you’ve grown out of your twenties, maybe even thirties, answering this question may be not so easy, particularly when it comes to skills that can be physically challenging. if not mastered as a child, Learning how to ride a bicycle as an adult is definitely a task left unaccomplished by many. Not so for Sian, who is telling her story of how she fell in love with a new hobby.
“I’m a middle-aged woman of questionable social standing, often talkative, who prefers dogs to cats, reads science-fiction, and thinks the TV program Justified was significantly under-rated.”
“Two years ago I decided to get “a bit” serious about losing some weight and getting fitter. Swimming isn’t always easy to organise. I’d grown bored with walking (so slow!), and the cost of attending a gym was getting a little prohibitive. I had friends who cycled, so I thought ‘why not?’ and stumbling upon a cycle course organised through the City of Stirling. Having never been on a bicycle before, the prospect of learning to ride was certainly daunting, however, I opted for taking the ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’ perspective.”
“My first cycling lesson was in early 2013 on a Saturday morning in the Stirling Council car park. I was terrified. And very intrigued when virtually the first thing the instructor did was to take the pedals off all the bikes. This turned out to be one of the most practical and safe ways to assist complete novices with the process of learning how to balance on the bike. I also have a distinct memory of suffering the most excruciatingly sore bottom and hamstrings for two days afterwards. By the end of the three week course I had earned both pedals back, could hop on and off, ride in a straight-ish line and turn very, very, very wide corners. Oh, and stop. Stopping by choice is a critical skill.”
“If support had ceased there, I doubt I’d be riding today. Thankfully, the City of Stirling ran a 10 week social ride which basically helped the small group of recent ‘intense course’ graduates to continue practicing those raw, new skills in the safety of understanding company and under the ever patient guidance of an instructor. These 10 weeks were pivotal for so many reasons, but let me list four: ongoing contact with other women who were at a similar point on their learning-to-cycle journey, regular time to meet just for the purpose of practicing newly acquired skill, an enthusiast yet empathetic mentor to guide the group and keep us distracted from our fears, and repetition of the basics, including safety considerations, without pressure to improve or compete. I simply cannot thank each of the women who participated enough, just for being there. We began the course with some of us wondering if we would ever be able to cycle 10 kilometers. We finished the course knowing that 15 kilometers was totally within our grasp, though we might need a coffee at the end.”
“At the conclusion of the 10 week course I purchased my first ever bike. Her name is Rosie, and she is a supremely sturdy beast of the hybrid variety, with wide tyres and straight handlebars. Rosie and I attached ourselves to a regular Saturday riding group, the Wheelie Wonderful Women, a truly great bunch of women, and occasionally would sneak in a mid-week ride on our own.”
“The amazing thing was how little I knew of Perth. This city has beautiful secrets one may never discover without a bicycle.”
“Time passed. My rides were getting longer and more frequent. I joined another fabulous Sunday riding group. I was having fun. Then a small number of group members announced plans for a trip to New Zealand to ride the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail, which is eight days of riding some of the most scenic places on the New Zealand South Island. We trooped over in early December of 2014 and had the most spectacular time. There were several instances where I judiciously chose to dismount and walk and there were many, many more instances where I needed to stop and catch my breath (they have real hills over there). Nonetheless, it was glorious. I was having even more fun. Who knew cycling could be all that?”
“Back in Perth, Rosie was no longer everything I wanted in a bicycle. I had reached the point where the optimal number of bikes to own is N+1 (where N is the number of bikes you have right now). Besides, the sales were on. So, in 2015, I purchased my second bicycle; her name is Maxine. She is a carbon composite, flat-bar road bike with disc brakes and together we have yet more fun.”
“I still ride Rosie as she is safe in the wet, can trundle off-road and haul luggage, but there is something very pleasing about a bike like Maxine whose sole purpose is to just go.”
“An average week for me right now would involve 2–5 separate rides. At least one of those will be a social ride with social group, at least one will be over 30 kilometers and the extras often arise from commuting between home and work, which is ‘only’ 11.6 kilometers one way. If I can’t make a social ride I just pick a route and trundle off alone – there is no better stress relief than a decent bicycle ride.”
“Joining the social riding group and learning to cycle has changed my life in so many good ways. I’m certainly fitter, healthier and a little lighter. I’ve met amazing, inspiring women who are a delight to spend time with. I’ve explored places that would otherwise have remained unknown or inaccessible to me. Friends who used to cycle have ventured back on their bikes, and they are most impressed to discover that there is always a good coffee at the end of a ride.”
“One of the more curious run-on effects of becoming a fun-oriented cyclist was chatting with a friend who has been a cycling commuter for more than a decade. She realised that she hadn’t cycled for fun in years, it was simply a means to get from place to place. Now she has re-discovered riding for pleasure by taking a trip once a week along the coast or river and wonders why she deprived herself all this time.”
“There’s always something new to try once you have a bike. And in my experience, people interested in cycling are, for the most part, incredibly supportive and helpful. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”
If Sian’s story has inspired you to learn how to ride, get back on your bike or join a social ride, check out our upcoming classes.