An Exchange of E-Mail’s that ended up with a Smiling Bike Rider
(C) 2005 by Rainbow Trainers, Inc.
Note: In May 2005 I (Richard Klein) received a message on the Lose The Training Wheels (TM) web site. What follows is an exchange of E-Mail’s that ended up with an adult who then taught himself how to ride a bike. The series of e-mail’s below took place over a period of about two weeks.
Subject: Adult Bike Inquiry Long Island NY
I need your help. I am a 38 year old male and I never learned how to ride a bicycle. I live on Long Island in New York and am trying to find a local coach who can teach me to ride. I would try it on my own. It can’t be too hard because my daughter learned at 4 years old, but I am terrified I will fall and get hurt. Any help or advice would be appreciated. Thanks, Brad
Thanks for your note. Please start by giving me a little more information. I would want to know height, weight, and a general overview of your physical condition. I’m trying to figure out issues such as obesity, or if you tire easily, can you see and walk, etc? Can you jog? I’m trying to figure out if it is only a matter of acquiring bike balancing skills, or do we have to deal with other issues?
I am real busy this week as we start our summer round of camps in seven days. I have tons to do.
Nonetheless we can try to get a feel for what options we have. Is it possible for you to visit us in upstate New York when we are there in August? We’ll be in Utica and Rome NY.
How did you find my web site?
Lastly, respond to this e-mail address as opposed to the “contact us feature” on the web site. I check that less often.
Here are my vital statistics:
Height 5 ft 10.5 inches
Weight 165 lbs
I am in good shape I exercise regularly and do not tire easily. I can walk with no problems and see 20/20 with glasses.
There are no issues beyond learning how to balance and overcome the fear of falling. I tried and tried to learn when I was a kid and gave up. My parents did not know how to ride so they couldn’t offer me much help.
I found your website via Yahoo search.
Upstate NY is going to be challenging. I was hoping to hear that you had a teacher on Long Island.
Thanks for writing back,
My sense is that we could set up a special bike to permit you to acquire riding skills. I think that you can teach yourself how to ride a bike. I will make a starting recommendation —
Get a bike that you can feel comfortable on and with seat low enough to the ground so that you can be on the seat and comfortably touch the ground with both feet. Adjust the seat to be low enough if necessary. You must be able to easily reach the ground with both feet while seated on the bike.
I suggest a cruiser style, as opposed to a thin-tired racing bike. I want raised handle bars. I also insist on a hand brake, and on the rear wheel.
Next, remove both of the pedals.
I want you to put your helmet on and be straddling the bike. Now use a frog type of push, where both feet push together (at the same time). This is not walking the bike, but keeping both legs together in unison. Try going forward by pushing your feet backwards. You can first do this on a large flat surface. Don’t do it on a narrow sidewalk or place where obstacles bother you. Of course, pick a spot where street traffic isn’t a concern. When the bike goes forward, try seeing if you can coast a little between pushes (frog pushes). If you are going to fall, then apply the hand brake to stop, and put your feet down. You will not fall and you will not hurt yourself.
The trick to riding a bike is to turn the handlebars gently in the direction that the bike starts to fall. In steering into the fall direction, you will amazingly discover that the bike steadies itself.
Once you can go, say, 20 ft with a good push, you will have then acquired the ability to maintain balance by steering actions only. DO NOT USE YOUR UPPER BODY TO SHIFT SIDE-TO-SIDE, but rather try to achieve and maintain balance by always turning the handlebars towards the direction of fall.
Once you feel comfortable doing this, try repeating this on a slight downgrade. See how far you can go? Once you can go, say, 100 ft, you know how to balance on a bike. If you are going too fast, use the brake (by squeezing it) to control your speed.
Your next step is to repeat all the above but with pedals. Use the pedals only as footrests, and if you are going to fall, apply brake to stop and put feet down.
Lastly, if you can go 50 to 100 ft on a down slope with feet on pedals, then try next with a gentle pedaling action.
I think you will be bike riding in a few hours. If you get tired or scared, stop. Have fun. Sing a song as you try this out. Far too many learning riders are too stiff because they are afraid. Stiffness is the bad thing, so relax and enjoy it. Don’t overdo yourself, but work on it gradually.
If you are embarrassed, go in the car to some distant locality where nobody knows you.
I can give you more tips, but try this first.
More later, good luck,
It is important for you to get what we now call a cruiser. It is actually a throwback to bikes of the 1950’s and 1960’s with big balloon tires, comfortable triangular seat, single speed, coaster brake, and handlebars that come up fairly high. You don’t want to be all bent over and on some narrow tiny seat.
If you go to yard sales, or to thrift shops (Salvation Army, Goodwill), you might get one in the $40 range. You will need to know how to take the pedals off. Moreover, most cruiser style bikes have what is called a “one-piece crank.” The threads have opposite directions as one side is right-handed and the other side is left-handed. The tool that you normally use is an open end wrench. If your bike is old it will be 9/16ths inch (usually). If it is a modern bike the standards are all metric, typically 15 mm. If you are clever you might be able to borrow a cruiser from somebody. Once you are able to maintain balance and go for a distance, things will become easier. It wouldn’t surprise me if you mastered bike riding and then would be more comfortable using a slightly different bike. I do recommend the cruiser style. To get an idea go to a bike shop to look at cruisers.
I urge you to avoid discount stores. That shiny bike in the discount store, even if a Schwinn, is actually a piece of junk. In the trade we refer to them as disposable bikes. You would be far better off buying an older bike such as a genuine Schwinn from years past, although the very old Schwinns have different standards so it is hard to get parts.
I have low regard for Huffy, Murray, Roadmaster, Columbia, as they are the bottom of the market. It is just my hang-up as I have to work on them.
You want a bike with a coaster brake – as that is what we call a brake that is applied when one pedals backwards. They are also called Bendix brakes after the name of the company that caused them to become popular. In addition you will want a hand brake on the rear tire (operated by a lever usually on the right handlebar). The multi-speed bikes like ten speeds, 15 speeds, and mountain bike styles are not your cup of tea – at least not for right now.
Once you try pushing off and coasting a bit you have to focus on turning gently in the direction the bike is falling. This causes the base (the tire-ground contact points) to steer or track (as it moves forward) underneath the bike and rider, and that is in essence how one “balances on a bike.” It is actually quite easy.
If you buy a new cruiser, the prices run up to about $300. I don’t know your budget, and so if it is just experimenting around you can do that on something far less expensive.
If you are afraid of falling, especially on pavement, you might try the frog style pushes on a slight downward grassy slope. I don’t know what kinds of riding areas you can find.
If you feel yourself falling, remember to apply the hand brake (that will stop forward movement), and then you can put your feet down. You should be able to catch yourself easily. If you can’t catch yourself as you might fall, then back off and do less vigorous pushes. You’ll be swinging both feet forward at the same time, and pushing back with both at the same time.
Thank you very much for the tips. I am going to buy a bike as you described over the weekend and I will make a trip to a park (far far away from where I live the following weekend). I will let you know what happens.
I did it! I did it! Thank you sooooo much!
I appreciate your advice regarding bike selection. I did not get a used bike because I wanted to get one quickly and get instant gratification by getting this over with. I have pained over this for over 30 years. I realize that the bike I bought may not last forever, but it served my purposes and I learned how to ride.
I purchased a Schwinn Jaguar Cruiser at Target yesterday – $99. I printed out your emails (which you obviously spent a lot of time writing and I REALLY appreciate your help and time). I went alone to a deserted office building parking lot Sunday afternoon, took off the pedals, strapped on my helmet and did the frog pushes. There was not much of a hill where I first started, so after I went 20-50 feet, I put the pedals on. I did not pedal at first, then after a minute or two, I tried pedaling. The next thing I knew, I was hundreds of feet away on the other side of the parking lot in total awe when I looked at my car far away. The whole learning process took about 20 minutes. Then I rode around, and around, and around for about an hour. It was 90 degrees!
Wow – finally. I am on top of the world!
I found that downhill or flat ground was MUCH easier than uphill. There was a section of the lot that went uphill. I had to pedal very quickly to get up the hill and stay balanced. If I slowed down my pedaling, I became unsteady. I made circles around the lot and have to practice more, because I found turns also a bit challenging. Any advice on how to control the bike in turns?
Also, the bike comes with 7 speeds. How do you use speeds? There is a speed selector on the right handlebar. I learned on speed 7, then found I was going too fast and set it to speed one. Not sure what I am supposed to do.
Also, I bought a bicycle pump and had a hard time filling the tires. They remained sort of flat so I used my auto electric pump. Any recommendations about bicycle pump brands.
I ended the day on my block riding down the block showing my wife with neighbors outside, and they had NO IDEA that I learned only hours before.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
I really appreciate your help.
I am in Chico CA doing a bike camp. My very best wishes to you and for you.
I won’t be able to reply much this summer as I am so busy.
Please have somebody take some digital pictures of you with your bike, you riding, with your daughter, etc. I want to post your story on the web site so it can help others. I will leave you name off unless you want it on. Again — I am very happy for you. What seemed to be an obstacle as big as a mountain is now gone.
I want to comment about making turns. When you make a turn or come to a corner, like a corner between two streets, it isn’t like driving a car where one merely turns the steering wheel in the desired direction. Kids on training wheels get used to driving or turning as if in a car, and that is why they often have so much trouble once the training wheels are removed.
The trick to riding a bike and making a turn rests in the fact that you have to first cause or make the bike lean correctly. The best way to think of this is to steer the opposite way initially. I know this may sound confusing and even silly, but trust me that I know what I’m talking about. If you want to, for example, make a left hand turn, you essentially do a two-step process. You first steer “right” (actually the wrong way!) even but momentarily. This brief little turn to the right (when you want to go left) shifts the tires over to the right and hence you and the bike are now leaning to the left. Now that the lean is established or created, it is easy to turn the handlebars back to the left, and the bike can go to the left because it is leaning to the left.
In order to straighten out at the end of the turn, one does the same sequence except in the opposite direction. Thus, to stop turning to the left one steers a little extra to the left – just briefly. This causes the bike to straighten up, and then one can steer straight as you will once again be upright.
Fortunately, for most people they don’t have to go through these confusing mental gymnastics when learning to ride a bike – because most people ride a bike in a slightly weaving pattern (with gentle oscillations) anyway. As the bike weaves sort of on its own and we follow along, we quickly learn to exaggerate the weaving action at key times to cause the bike to make the desired turns. When we are able to make turns seemingly at will, then we have moved up to a level of proficiency on a bike called “navigation.” That is, we are able to not only balance or remain upright, but we can also cause the bike to go from what we would say in engineering – Point A to Point B.
It is actually quite amazing how quickly the human learns to make turns and thus navigate using what we call “counter-steering.” Even very skilled bike riders at times scratch their heads when being told this, as counter-steering is something that has become for them a subconscious or automatic action. When we work with children with disabilities, we find that well over half are able to learn to counter-steer, usually within a few minutes – and they don’t even realize that they are doing it.
The human who has learned to ride a bike then enters a world where – “It is as easy as riding a bike,” and to top it off, “Once you learn you never forget.”