- Kate Forest
Bicycles are Mysterious Contraptions (and how I didn't learn to ride during the 1977 Midnight Ma
I’ve never learned to ride a bike. It’s not simply that I don’t excel at riding a bike, I’ve never ever propelled a bicycle through my own power. I’m in awe that anyone can get going and keep it from toppling over.
There are a number of factors that went into this deficit. The first is that I grew up on the 9th floor of a 17 floor building in Manhattan. There wasn’t an abundance of outdoor space. Yes, most city kids do learn to ride bikes, and Central Park wasn’t too far from our apartment. But it requires extra effort to ride a bike in NYC than in a suburb.
The second factor was my parents. Well-meaning and overall excellent caregivers, they didn’t have a lot of patience for teaching me the skill. Neither of them had bikes as adults so the skill didn’t seem important to them. And then there’s this last piece: they didn’t believe in training wheels. Considering they weren’t bike riders, you would think they would whole-heartedly endorse bike riding aides. I think their reasoning went, “If she learns with training wheels, she’ll become dependent and then never learn.” Ha, jokes on them. I never learned anyway.
I did have a bike for one summer. It was orange, my favorite color at seven years old. My father took me out a total of three days, up and down the street, running after me and holding the back of the seat. This was a recipe for disaster. I am not the most coordinated person and my father is no athlete. We were both happy when the “teaching session” was over and we could go inside and watch the Mets.
(Incidentally, the year I was 7 was also the year of the Mets Midnight Massacre)
I did learn to navigate the NYC public transportation system by the time I was eleven. Not many kids outside of big cities can claim that, even if they can balance on two skinny spinning wheels.
Luckily, my kids had a father who grew up in Wyoming so they can bike anywhere and thanks to me, they can also read a subway map.