Sometimes words are just words, and not a single one can describe the feeling of learning to ride a bicycle.
Adwoa, a Chicago native who now calls Minneapolis home, tried to learn to ride a bike a few times in her past.
“I didn’t know how to ride a bike, and as an adult, I’d tell my friends I wanted to learn and they’d say [they’d teach me] but I never learned,” she recalled. “I grew up in Chicago, went to school at Gustavus (in St. Peter, MN), and worked in Wisconsin in the summers. So most summers I’d go home to Chicago for a couple weeks and a good friend would try to teach me [to ride]. I tried maybe three or four times. Each [attempt] lasting a day or two.”
In Cycles for Change’s Learn to Ride session, however, Adwoa got the hang of riding a bicycle at the end of the first class, due to one surprising difference.
“What helped [in the Learn to Ride class] was…learning the parts of the bike and the fundamentals of it, like the height of the bike. When I tried to learn on my own and with friends we didn’t think about the ABCQs (Air, Brake, Chain, Quick release) of bikes. Learning the fundamentals–you don’t think it’s important, but it is.”
Now that the class is over, Adwoa is thinking about all the places she could ride a bicycle.
“When you’re a new rider, you’re always trying to test out new trails and places. I want to visit new places and the best way to see new places is on your bike and on your feet. I’d love to do some international rides–to visit a friend in Japan, visit Bali, see the continent of Africa more. Each region [of Africa] is so different; I want to spend more intentional time there. I’m from Ghana originally.”
But bicycling in new and different places is something to be thought out and should respect the spaces of the people that are already there. As Adwoa explained, it’s the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler.
“Being on a bike would add to the experience of traveling. In Ghana, folks ride bikes. Folks do it recreationally mostly [in the part of Ghana I’m from], but it’s not their sole mode of transportation. Bikes might be used differently in other parts of the country. It’s always fun to see people on bikes; I get excited to see people on bikes in Ghana. But there’s a lot of thought that goes into it–you can’t just say, I’m going to ride a bike in Japan. How does that fit into life there? I don’t like being a tourist–I want to fit in. I see tourists in Chicago all the time–but I want them to come do something with us, come see Chicago. I’m all about going to places and doing what the locals do. It’s very Western of us to go into spaces and not be conscious of the people that are already there. Being intentional is so important for me. Especially when we go into spaces, we need to recognize the people that are already there. When you start doing that, your actions are different.”
Similarly, Adwoa marveled at the same aspect of Learn to Ride many students marvel at after they’ve completed their four-class session: the space and community that is created by people sharing similar experiences.
“I think coming into a space where the goal is similiar, being with folks whose goals are similar to yours, is helpful. You come as you are and you learn as you can. If you need folks to be on this journey with you, you’ve got that. And if you don’t, then you’ve got someone to supervise you. There’s really no expectations. It’s a fundamental class. I think it’s a space for all people who are learning or have learned and want to polish it again, or a space for all people period. I think it’s a very kind space.”
Adwoa also enjoyed learning about all the different stories and backgrounds that brought everyone together in this class.
“I love storytelling and at the beginning of the class Anneka (Learn to Ride Instructor) said ‘tell us a little about yourself and why you are here.’ My reason was that my uncle once saw my sister on a bike and thought it was too dangerous so he forbade us to do things that were potentially harmful. We heard different stories of why people were there [at the Learn to Ride class]. It makes you tap more into the experience. It helps you to know that there are so many people who also never learned how to ride and all the different reasons why people never learned. It was awesome to hear all the different stories. It was just awesome to see accomplishments of people riding. So now the whole story has shifted. My whole life’s story had been that I didn’t know how to ride.”
Now that Adwoa does know how to ride and this is a part of her life’s story, she is trying to find a way to describe this feeling.
“Sometimes words fail me so I’m trying to put together words that describe the feeling [of riding a bike],” she said. “I just don’t know. For me, riding a bike in this lifetime–I mean, I don’t know how long this life is going to go–but it’s one of the most daunting/beautiful things I’ve done so far. I beam every time I’m on a bike.”