Here’s What It’s Like to Learn How to Ride a Bike as a Fully Grown Adult

Better late than never.

learn to ride a bike
Twenty-four-year old me testing out my balancing skills while my ever-supportive mother looks on, a bit questioningly.
PHOTO BY Mia Rodriguez ILLUSTRATION War Espejo

(SPOT.ph) I had a Snoopy bike as a kid. It was large and heavy (for a child) with a low, white body, jet-black handles and, yup, training wheels. I loved that bike. But because #WalangForever, well, I accidentally left it outside next to our garbage bins one day—right as the truck was scheduled to grumble down our street—and I never saw it again. Little me, fearing imminent death, told my mom it had been stolen—a “white” lie to cover my own ass—but of course she somehow found out. It’s not that she never bought me another bike as punishment for being irresponsible, but for one reason or another, I never really did get interested in biking again. Flash forward more than a decade later and suddenly, it’s 2020—and learning how to bike was one of the few things that kept me together while the world pretty much fell apart.

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A lot happened in 2020. Yet with all the things going on, it was impossible not to notice how much more popular—and necessary—biking suddenly became. There was the transport mess that happened when public means were suddenly cut off, forcing people to either walk long lengths, or of course, bike. Then as restrictions eased, biking became the recreational sport of choice. My feed was suddenly full of beginner marathoners taking pictures at random viewpoints somewhere in Rizal or Laguna. Basically, all signs pointed to me finally really learning how to bike. At 24 years old. So, like with thousands of other folks over the quarantine, I set out to do it—with (almost) no shame.

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Yes, You Can Learn to Ride a Bike As an Adult

Afraid to Fall

No, not a #Hugot line. I mean that literally. One of the benefits of learning how to bike while young is that kids appear to be virtually indestructible. Meanwhile, I pick something up wrong and my back is out for a week. And funnily enough, I decided to try biking again at the same time my four-year-old niece was learning the skill, too, so yes, I saw the difference firsthand. For me, my dad managed to unearth an old Japanese folding bike sans training wheels he had bought years ago for my older sister, said niece’s mom, while the kid had a flashy Princess Sophia bike with training wheels. Yes, I was a little jealous.  

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learn to ride a bike
Trying to speed away.
PHOTO BY Mia Rodriguez

I didn’t have a schedule for my "learn to ride a bike" project as the quarantine days were, well, a mess, and planning seemed futile. But whenever I got the chance, I would do a few rounds outside our home in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, where my parents are originally from. Just walking astride the bike and hoping for enough momentum to pedal—but almost always, my feet refused to coordinate. Being the only one left in the family, younger generations aside, who didn’t know how to ride a bike meant that I had a lot of tutors throwing out different techniques to try whenever they managed to pass by: Uncles launching me off downhill and hoping gravity would take me, cousins running alongside me and yelling when I stopped the very moment I felt myself teetering, my sister gracefully demoing how to balance on her old bike while I grumbled under a storm cloud; and of course, when I managed to bring my bike over to my sister’s place, all my nieces and nephews biking around in circles trying to figure out why their tita was struggling with something so basic, all while yelling their own instructions.

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You’re Not Alone

Not knowing how to bike isn’t exactly the greatest shame one could have, but even a playground-level fault can hold you back. “I’m shy to admit it,” says fellow Spot staffer Ashley Martelino, who gradually learned how to ride a bike throughout her teenage years, about what happens when the dreaded conversation about bikes ever comes up with people who think biking comes as easy as breathing. “I don’t own a bike so I just gradually learned by continuously riding whenever the opportunity came up,” she tells me.

The experience is, of course, different for others, like for Christopher De La Cruz. “Growing up, I had a lot of friends who did not know how to ride a bike; some of them still don’t today.” De La Cruz, who works as a software engineer in Yokohama, Japan, eventually learned at 26 years old while traveling in Osaka. They landed in a tourist spot where the only way to go around was biking—which meant that his first real trial at mastering the two wheels was right then and there. “My friend tried to teach me on the spot, but it was hard to bike around for the first time. Long story short, I did not enjoy that day,” he tells me in an online exchange.

learn to ride a bike
Christopher De La Cruz trudging along with the rented bike next to him on that day.
PHOTO Courtesy of Cristopher De La Cruz
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De La Cruz went straight to work once back at home. “I practiced every day until I learned how,” he says, explaining that he went to a park for children where the ground was covered with softer sand. He only fell once, thankfully, and for a wholesome reason too. “I tried to record myself actually biking to be able to show my parents [back in the Philippines], so I held onto the bike with one hand only and inevitably fell.”

And in case you think there’s a limit to age when it comes to learning new tricks—think again. Elmer Collong learned how to ride a bike at 47, a couple of years before 2020 hit, thankfully. Biking just seemed like the optimal escape plan in case a zombie apocalypse hits, Collong tells me. “Ever watched 28 Days Later? Them f*ckers can run!” he jokes, talking about the 2002 horror movie usually credited for having brought back the zombie genre by introducing super speed versions of the brain-dead ghouls.

Collong would spend his lunch breaks at the sprawling rooftops of his Quezon City office building trying to hone the skill. “Fell quite a lot. Some, quite spectacularly, I’m proud to say.” I would also like to add that no bones were broken nor have been broken even as Collong began joining biker friends on long trips throughout the years.

learn to ride a bike
Collong in full biker's gear during a ride.
PHOTO BY Elmer Collong
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Finding a Reason and Sticking to It

Okay, last #Hugot header. In the end I managed to learn by riding it out, literally. I kept walking, then kicking, gaining enough momentum to finally do my first full pedal, and then another, and another, and another. There’s definitely no one technique you can use and you’ll have to find it out for yourself. One pro tip, though, is always, always to have a why—and that’s another thing that’s different for everyone. I learned how to bike because it gave me a solid, reachable goal during the quarantine, De La Cruz learned because biking is a major mode of transportation where he works, while Collong got to biking because the apocalypse is coming. But kidding aside, this is me saying that it is always better late than never.

The quarantine changed a lot of things about the way we live life—and it made me realize that we didn’t have to live life the way we did. In the B.C. times, a.k.a. Before Coronavirus, no one would connect “Metro Manila” and “bike-friendly” in one sentence unless there’s a “is not” in between. But it’s safe to say that people—and LGUs, at least—are now realizing that not only could it be, it should be.

May ikabubuti ba 'to sa pagkatao ko?” you might be asking, dear biker newbie. Well, “Like doing any other new (self-improving) things, it actually will,” says Collong, point blank. At the basest level, there’s the sense of accomplishment, and then there’s also the practical fact that you can now go places on a bike, it’s also good exercise, and, of course, “better chances of survival during a zombie apocalypse.” 

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“The feel of the breeze and the joy of just sitting on your bike as you move along is a different kind of ‘free’ feeling,” explains De La Cruz. It’s definitely worth throwing yourself into. So never think that it’s too late for anything, especially when it comes to learning how to ride a bike. Who knows, this might just be your new addiction! As Collong points out, “There’s nothing like a 10-wheeler zipping close past you down C.P. Garcia at dawn to make you aware of just how alive you are.”

 

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