Muscle Epiphany

My university is very large. The vast majority of students ride bikes (and the rest drive) around campus. I never learned how to ride a bike as a kid, so I walk everywhere. Even though I live on campus, it easily takes 20-30 minutes to walk from my apartment to my office. The campus shuttles only run every 20 minutes and they stop running around 8pm, so they’re generally unreliable, especially since I stay late in the office almost every day. More often than not, my advisor drives me home at night.

A few weeks ago, my advisor said that my hour (round trip) commute was inefficient and (strongly) suggested that I learn how to ride a bike. He was willing to help teach me or have someone in our research group teach me. My first task was to get a bike with which to learn, so I went to the campus bike shop to either rent or buy one.

I don’t know the first thing about bikes, other than that they have two wheels. My first trip to the campus bike shop was so overwhelming. There are three general types of bikes (mountain bikes, road bikes, and hybrids), and each has their advantages and disadvantages. Then there are different frame sizes for different people. Having never even sat on a bike before, I had no idea what size frame I was supposed to get. I’m incredibly indecisive even when I’m well informed, so trying to buy a bike by myself would have been impossible. I asked one person from my research group (i.e., another one of my advisor’s students) to come with me and help me choose a bike.

Back story: The person I asked to go with me had heard that I was going to learn how to ride a bike from our advisor, and he was more than happy to help me. As most people do, he thought it was crazy that I never learned how to ride a bike. He is ridiculously cute/hot. He has strikingly bright eyes and a dimply smile that makes me melt. And, as all the people who I tend to crush on always are, he’s straight. I’m going to refer to him as my cute/hot friend.

Anyway. When my cute/hot friend went with me to the campus bike shop, he knew all the right questions to ask. In five minutes, he knew that we needed to go off campus to find a suitable and affordable bike for my size and level. We went bike shopping the following morning. My cute/hot friend took control of the entire process; he was like a parent (or perhaps a big brother) buying his kid’s first bike. Long story short, from my cute/hot friend’s recommendation, I bought a mountain bike with a 16″ frame (I’m pretty small, apparently). During the process of finding the perfect bike, I sat on a bike for the first time ever.

A couple days later (this is now Sunday, October 23rd), I had my first bike lesson with my cute/hot friend (my advisor joined us halfway through the lesson). There’s a fairly steep hill behind my office building. At first, my cute/hot friend held onto the front of my bike while I got the feel of sitting on the bike. After some basic training in braking and stopping, my first goal was to coast straight down the hill, without pedaling. Basically, I had to learn how to balance on the bike. I was out there for a little over an hour, and I could probably coast about four feet before I lost my balance and had to stop. Basically, I couldn’t balance at all. I kept leaning too far to one side. I stopped with my feet/toes a lot, my butt kept hitting the seat when I started and stopped, and my arms were tense from holding onto the bike so hard. I was hot, sweaty, and sore everywhere (and not in a good way). It was incredibly frustrating. I felt like I would never learn how to ride a bike.

My cute/hot friend told me that riding a bike is about muscle memory. As frustrated as I was after that first lesson, I needed to make sure that my muscles didn’t forget the feeling of being on the bike, so I was determined to practice at least an hour every day. I didn’t want to have another formal lesson with my cute/hot friend until I felt like I wasn’t wasting his time, so I practiced by myself. Since I couldn’t ride my bike anywhere yet, I kept my bike at my office building. Every night (usually around 10pm), I stopped working for an hour and practiced riding my bike on the hill behind my building. Here’s how it went:

Monday: Still tried to coast down the hill but to no avail. I stopped too hard once and halfway toppled over my bike. I didn’t fall completely, but I knocked the bike chains out of alignment. Not knowing at the time what I did, I freaked out and called my cute/hot friend for help. He came and fixed my chains. He said my balance on the bike was improving, even if I couldn’t tell. Later that evening, I ran into my officemate/ex-roommate (he stopped staying with me that night, actually). He gave me a mini-lesson by having me hold onto his shoulder while I slowly pedaled around the courtyard in front of my office building. I couldn’t balance without holding onto him, but it gave me the feeling of pedaling.

Tuesday: For about half an hour, before my choir rehearsal, I tried again to coast down the hill. I still couldn’t do it. After choir rehearsal, I gave it another shot and finally was able to coast down the hill. I have no idea how I did it the first time. I must’ve had some sort of muscle epiphany or something, because my body was able to balance the bike and I can’t explain how. To make sure it wasn’t a fluke, I coasted down the hill at least five times before I texted my cute/hot friend about it. He was really excited and wanted me to show him. Of course, under pressure, I couldn’t do it. Darn performance anxiety.

Wednesday: My coasting downhill improved a lot. I couldn’t pedal on flat ground yet, but if I started from coasting downhill, I was able to pedal and stay balanced. There’s a small hill at the bottom of the big hill behind my office building. After coasting to the bottom of the big hill, I got off my bike, turned around, coasted down the small hill, and pedaled up the big hill. I couldn’t turn at all though. I could only coast downhill or pedal uphill if I was going straight the whole way.

Wednesday was also the day that I had my first fall. I must’ve been too confident with my coasting or something, but I went too fast and didn’t brake in time and actually fell off my bike to the ground. I caught myself with my hands, so I didn’t hit my head (I wore a helmet by the way), but I hurt my legs. My right leg had a medium sized scrape with blood, while my left leg hurt when I twisted it the wrong way. Both leg injuries are mostly healed now (two and a half weeks later), but they aren’t 100% just yet.

My biggest fear after I fell was that I would be afraid to get on the bike again (much like how I avoided driving for years after I was the passenger in a car accident). Knowing myself, I forced myself to continue riding my bike immediately after I fell. I think it was good that I fell early on, because I’m now very conscious of how easily I can fall. I’m very cautious when I ride my bike (much like I am when I drive).

Thursday: I graduated from the hill behind my office building to the courtyard in front of the building (flat ground). I was able to start pedaling from a stopped position (i.e., I didn’t need the added velocity from the hill), and I learned how to turn. It was another muscle epiphany. Turning requires a slight shift in balance with minimal arm movement, but I have no idea how I did it at first.

Friday: Improved pedaling and turning.

Saturday: Improved pedaling and turning.

The following Sunday (now October 30th), exactly one week after my first and only official bike lesson, I showed off my bike riding skills to my advisor, my cute/hot friend, and my officemate/ex-roommate. I stumbled a little bit (darn performance anxiety), but it was obvious that I had improved by leaps and bounds. Everyone was very proud of me. The last milestone occurred the following day (October 31st). I rode my bike all the way from my office building to my apartment for the first time.

I seriously thought I was never going to learn how to ride a bike, and now I ride my bike to and from my office every day. I bike between classes and bike to the student union building to grab lunch. My commute time is now about one-third of what it was before; it only takes about 10 minutes to bike from my apartment to my office. I still need to gain some experience though. I haven’t ridden off campus yet. I also get a little intimidated when other cyclists are around. I feel like a baby just learning to walk who is trying to play with the big kids. I’m growing up fast though!