Learning how to ride a bike is a milestone achievement in the lives of many children.
However, lots of folks never lay a finger on a bicycle until they’re all grown up. At that point, picking up such a daunting new skill may seem nigh impossible.
I firmly believe that it’s never too late to experience the thrill of taking your first unassisted cruise on two wheels. In fact, it can be just as fun and rewarding for big people as it is for little ones.
If you’re determined to learn how to ride a bike as an adult, all you need is a bicycle, a good-size stretch of flat ground, and a willing attitude.
Before you can feel the wind in your hair, it’s important to make sure your conveyance is trustworthy and ready to roll.
Whether you’re buying, renting, or borrowing the bike you’ll be learning on, the first thing you want to do is take stock of its general condition.
The frame, handlebars, grips, seat, chain, forks, and wheel spokes should all be free of visible defects—such as dents, cracks, bending, or foreboding looseness—or excessive wear and tear.
Once you’ve okayed the main components, turn your attention to the tires. These should be fully inflated and firm to the touch. If they’re a little on the squishy side, you can fill them up by connecting a manual bike pump or air compressor to the valve stem on the inner edge of each tire.
Following your initial inspection, pick the bike up or lay it down on its side and manually crank the pedals a few times. The chain that controls the movement of the wheels should turn freely on its track while still providing enough traction to be responsive underfoot.
One last note on safety: it’s a good idea to wear a helmet while learning how to ride a bike, especially if you’ll be doing it on concrete or asphalt.
If you’re a stickler for safety, you might also consider equipping yourself with wrist guards and knee and elbow pads, as well as long-sleeved clothing to provide a measure of protection against cuts and scrapes.
Location is Everything
For your maiden voyage, you’ll want to pick out a spot that offers at least 20-30 yards of more-or-less straight, flat, and uninterrupted terrain. This will give you plenty of room to practice peddling and build up a little speed and prevent you from having to stop or change course suddenly.
A vacant parking lot, section of sidewalk, or the walking track at your local park can make an ideal setting for your first ride. Just make sure there’s no one else nearby to cut down on the chances of close-calls and collisions.
If you’re worried about falling, you also have the option of starting out on a nice level patch of grass, which will serve as a bit of a cushion should you take a tumble (just don’t wear white!).
No matter which surface you go with, give it a quick spot check to verify that there are no pesky rocks, sticks, roots, or potholes in your path. These sorts of obstacles could lead to accidents if left undiscovered.
The time has come to mount your noble steed.
Stand to one side of the bike (tip: choose whichever side corresponds to the leg your balance is better on) and grip both handlebars tightly to keep the front wheel from pivoting in either direction. Squeezing the hand brakes will help also ensure that the wheels don’t turn unexpectedly.
Lift the leg closest to the bike and swing it over so that you’re straddling the seat. Make whatever micro-adjustments you need to settle into a stable perch.
Keep in mind that you should be able to reach the ground with both feet at all times while on the bike. If you can’t, you may need to lower the seat a few inches.
Take a few moments here to just get a feel for being on the bike. You can even practice getting on and off several times before you get moving, if you like.
Walk it Out
Remember, you must learn to walk before you can learn to run (or ride, in this case).
While keeping the hand brakes engaged, start pushing yourself forward using teensy-weensy baby steps. This will help get you used to the sensation of moving while the wheels are turning beneath you.
Spend a few minutes walking along at a casual pace. Once you get comfortable with this, try tilting the handlebars ever-so-slightly to the left and right to experiment with turning.
This is a crucial step, so don’t rush it.
Spread Your Wings
The big moment is finally here. Let’s ride.
When you’re ready, place a foot on one of the pedals and give it a push, keeping your other foot close to the ground in case you need to catch yourself. As you surge forward, move your other foot into position on the opposite pedal and repeat the pushing action as it comes around to the top.
Go back and forth, pumping your feet slowly and deliberately until you’ve built up enough momentum to stay upright. You’ll find that the faster you’re going, the easier this will be.
Try to develop a regular rhythm to your pushes, all the while being sure to look where you’re going and hold the handlebars nice and straight to stabilize yourself.
You did it! You’re riding a bike!
To stop yourself, simply apply pressure to the hand brakes and gradually reduce your speed to the point where you can put one or both feet down safely.
From here, it’s just a matter of practice. The more you ride, the better acquainted you’ll get with the finer points of pedaling, balancing, turning, braking. Once you get the hang of each of these elements in concert, they’ll soon become second nature.
Just because you didn’t learn how to ride a bike in your formative years doesn’t mean the opportunity has passed you by forever.
With the right mindset, anyone can get in on the joy of cycling at any point in their life. If you ask me, there’s never been a better time than today.
Who knows? In the process of opening yourself up to new skills and experiences, you may even find yourself feeling like a kid again.