With no training wheels, adults learn how to ride bikes

Adults learn how to ride at one of Bike New York's classes.  Credit: Bess Adler
Adults learn how to ride at one of Bike New York’s classes.
Credit: Bess Adler

Jackie Wasilczyk wobbled, struggling for balance and straddling a bicycle with no pedals on the East River Bikeway, when a young child whizzed by on his own two-wheeler.

“You’re stuck cause you want to learn, but it’s not easy when you’re older,” the 27-year-old Park Slope resident said earlier. “Especially with Citi Bike — I want to be able to use that resource.”

Many adults like Wasilczyk are turning to Bike New York, a nonprofit aimed at promoting cycling in the city, to learn a skill that’s becoming more useful since the bike share program launched in May.

The organization said many of their recent students, in the adult class and others, have credited Citi Bike as their reason for signing up.

“Transportation like that is very accessible, it’s nice that, if you need to, you can ride from one place to another,” said one of the organization’s volunteer instructors, Douglas Gonzalez.

On a recent Saturday in East River Park, 20 adults grimaced and giggled as Gonzalez explained many of them would know how to ride a bike in a few hours’ time.

“You’ll know how to pedal,” Gonzalez told them. “Don’t feel ashamed, nobody will judge you whatsoever.”

Participants first learned to bike without pedaling, instead pushing forward with their feet and learning how to balance.

“It’s like skipping,” Gonzalez said, propelling his own bike with long strides.

Douglas Gonzalez, a Bike New York volunteer, demonstrates how to practice balance on a bicycle at an adult riding class. Credit: Bess Adler.
Douglas Gonzalez, a Bike New York volunteer, demonstrates how to practice balance on a bicycle at an adult riding class.
Credit: Bess Adler

This was not, as they say, “like riding a bike.” The class moved slowly around the the park, often stumbling, for an hour before one woman’s pedals were returned.

“It’s embarrassing,” said Victor Poon, a 49-year-old Long Island resident. “Every time I put my weight on one side I fall over.”

Most of the class acknowledged this humiliation — that they waited too long to learn — but Gonzlez and other instructors cheered them on, trying to ease their qualms.

“Somehow, they rode a bike when they were young or they had a bad experience learning, and they never got it,” Gonzalez said, noting learning how to balance first was the key. “It’s like they have a mental block.”

J. D. Harrington, 32, said his father tried to teach him years ago.

“I fell and he yelled a lot and I was like, no way, never again,” he said.

But, by the end of the class, Harrington and most of the other students were riding confidently around the park.

When Wasilczyk was eventually given pedals, her bike fell over.

“I still have some learning to do,” she said, smiling as Gonzalez handed her a first-aid kit.

Bike New York offers adult learn-to ride classes, among others, throughout the year.

Follow Anna Sanders on Twitter: @AnnaESanders


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