In my younger and more vulnerable years (when I was five), I vaguely remember my dad asking me if I wanted to learn how to ride a bike. Being the borderline cynical realist that I oddly enough was at that age, I took a hard look at my life and weighed my options. To me, the question wasn’t so much “Would you like to gain this skill which other people your age generally seem to value?” It was more of “Is the opportunity cost of taking the time to learn how to ride a bike as an obese, clinically unathletic child, worth the amount of time lost, which could be spent playing Starfox 64?”
It seemed like an easy answer to me. None of my friends lived in biking distance, so that perk was obsolete. My older siblings both knew how to ride bikes, but I didn’t see them getting anything out of it really. And to this day, I have no memory of either of my parents riding bikes. I remember wondering rather conclusively, “Why would I ever bother to learn how to ride a bike?”
The answer to that question came to me seventeen years later, or three days ago, depending on your perspective. It turns out I would, in fact, bother to learn how to ride a bike, if my new boss is a really great guy who, upon finding out I don’t know how to ride a bike, uses his connections to get me a bike for free, and even volunteers to help teach me how to ride it- all of this happening, of course, during a year when I’m intentionally pursuing new experiences and fleeing my comfort zone, in attempt to grow as a person and further my understanding of the world and my role in it. It’s really a perfect storm.
I wish I could write something to the effect of, “Luckily, that hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t foresee it happening anytime soon. Life is good.”
Unfortunately, as you’ve no doubt surmised by the fact that I’m writing this, all of those things have happened, and I am now in the process of learning how to ride a bike as a 22-year-old.
This undertaking has proven to be one of my most frustrating to date, for a number of reasons. A few years ago, I felt deeply ambivalent about bikes. I had no relationship with them whatsoever. Now I do have a relationship with them, and it is one of heated mutual animosity. That’s not what I wanted to write about though.
In previous conversations I’ve had with friends about learning to ride a bike as an adult, many of them have conjectured that it would be much easier to learn as an adult than as a child, and I could probably figure it out in less than half an hour. As of today, I can firmly say that I’ve done the science, and they are scientifically wrong.
Obviously, I will never know how difficult it would have been to learn when I was a child. The only thing I can say with any real certainty is that it would have involved much less profanity, because my vocabulary wasn’t yet up to snuff at that age.
But I can also say that being tall enough for my feet to reach the ground quickly makes it incredibly difficult to resist the urge to step off the peddles every time I start to fall. I am completely capable of maintaining a sense of comfort, and rather than controlling that, I’ve found it almost impossible to stop myself from returning to it. For so long, I’ve been comfortable in my inability to ride a bike, and now that I’m ready to leave that comfort, my reflexes are fighting against me on it. At the age of 22, I’ve already become infallibly comfortable, and I’m finding it hard to learn new tricks.
I’ll tell you right now that this blog doesn’t end with me learning how to ride a bike in one, arduous, but remarkably successful afternoon. It doesn’t even end with me finally being able to peddle ten feet, after accruing a number of cuts and bruises, but feeling proud of my accomplishments. It ends with me sweaty and bruised, unable to peddle for more than a few quivering moments, angry at myself after hours of fruitless work, finally walking home with the bike at my side, all the while muttering profanities to myself. It ends with me standing in the shower for too long, trying to think of a positive spin to put on this story so the people who read this blog will be happy for me.
It ends with me finally giving in to the fact that I am frustrated and unsuccessful.
Looking for the silver linings won’t change that. Neither will complaining, nor giving up. In the end, I went back to the library parking lot where I’d just spent hours of frustration, sat down in range of the free public Wi-Fi, and watched an episode of Veggietales on my phone.
It was the episode modeled after the good Samaritan, where Junior the Asparagus helps Larry the Cucumber, even though Junior has a pot on his head, and Larry has a shoe on his. The silly song is “Oh Where is my Hairbrush,” which I think we can all agree is one of the great classics of my generation. None of that has anything to do with riding a bike, or not riding a bike, or any of that. It just made me feel good. It was a dumb kid show, and I enjoyed it. I feel like that’s relevant to telling this story, but I’m still not sure why.
Tomorrow, I’ll go back to the library parking lot, and I’ll try again. Tomorrow night, maybe I’ll write another blog post about how much I hated it. Maybe it will have a more blatant theological lesson in it that time, but maybe not.
If you ever want to have a full-fledged conversation with me about every reason I think bike-riding is a stupid thing to do and I hate it, hit me up and I’ll be happy to walk down that road with you. But for now, all I have to say is this-
I am a man deeply rooted in a lifestyle of comfort. I’ve never thought of myself as someone who shies away from difficulty, but maybe that’s just because so much of my life has been made so easy for me. As I continue to try to learn to ride a bike, the hardest part will be learning to keep my feet on the peddles, even if it means I’m about to fall. 22 years of privilege and comfort had made me weak in that aspect, and in this, and every other aspect of my YAV year, I pray I will find the ability to fight against that habit.