Today I had my first cycling lesson at the Bicycle Riding School. The weather started off brilliantly (7ºC, with a wind chill of 2ºC), but by 3pm, it was 1ºC with a wind chill of 4ºC. It was brrrrr! When you go out for a run, you warm up very quickly and soon you are stripping off layers. Learn to balance on a bike is slow patient work, and the chill gets through to your bones very quickly I discovered.
After my teacher Pata had fitted me with a helmet and a hybrid bike, we went down to the school yard for the lesson. The first lesson is the hardest one, she told me - because you are learning to balance on the bike and you are learning to balance the bike too. "Don't worry about going in a straight line, just follow the direction the bike takes you in", she said. After taking off the pedals, she instructed me to put off with my feet and then try lifting my feet off the ground.
My first attempts going down on a slight slope seemed wild, unseemly and totally out of control. My body felt stiff and rigid, and certainly there was no chemistry with the bike. But Pata is an amazing, patient and very encouraging woman. She made me feel like I was doing a fabulous job, and slowly, I started relaxing. Now this did not come in an all enlightening moment, because during the course of the lesson, I veered back and forth between feeling relaxed and feeling quite tense. However, she kept telling me to trust my body and to trust the feeling I got from the bike - to turn when it felt like the bike wanted to go in a different direction. In short to give up a degree of control.
Pata gave me some excellent advice about not over-thinking the process, but to try and enjoy the feeling of gliding along. With all that encouragement I felt that I was actually progressing. Especially when I managed to stay with feet upright for what Pata called 'a bicycle lap'. Yes, I actually did a real lap on a real bike!
I spent so many years thinking about all the reasons why I am not able to ride a bike, but today I realised that this is merely another skill which can be learned. This is not some genetic permutation that everyone is born knowing how to ride a bike. Nowadays it is taken for granted that everyone and their dog can use a pc. I remember when I first learned to use a computer in the dark ages when only the Word Perfect programme was available. It was a skill I had to acquire with time and patience. Exactly the same experience for everyone else I imagine, and so, is biking any different?
I was a bit knackered after the lesson, but in an elated sort of way. I felt a real sense of accomplishment in having been able to balance on the bike for periods of time without feeling panicky, and actually being able to savour the feeling. It was about 1ºC with a wind chill of -4ºC when we finished and I was feeling a bit cold, but what a great feeling this has left me with. I am so looking forward to my next lesson!