Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, Learn to Ride participant

Sometimes powerlifting and bicycling go hand-in-hand.

Elizabeth Wrigley-Field, a professor in the sociology department at the University of Minnesota, began powerlifting in 2012 as a way to reduce risk of diabetes. But when she decided it was time to learn to ride a bicycle, she discovered how helpful all that powerlifting was.

“I have a hard time learning new physical skills,” she explained. “But I think the weight lifting made a big difference. I picked up the balance [of bicycling] quite quickly, which is probably because I have good core strength from lifting. Within 10 minutes of the first class I was pedaling.”

Pedaling so quickly in the Learn to Ride class came as a shock to Elizabeth, who had once tried to learn to ride a bike previously in her adult life and never attempted to learn as a child.

“I grew up in Manhattan,” she said, “and when I was a kid there was not really a safe way to ride. There weren’t bike lanes. You could go in a park, but it wasn’t a good way to get around the city, so I just never learned. Later on when I moved out of New York, it would have been great to ride a bike, but it was hard to learn as an adult.

“A friend of mine tried to teach me at one point, which was fun. She didn’t really know how to teach, so we were just riding around a driveway, and I was falling over a lot, but I just didn’t get a lot of sustained practice so it didn’t really take.”

Now that she’s feeling more confident on a bike after the 4 sessions of the Learn to Ride class, Elizabeth can reflect on the feeling of succeeding at something new.

“I think it’s very cool to do something that was sort of set up in my mind as something I couldn’t do, which was the same experience with powerlifting,” she said. “I think this is changing, but I think that–for women especially–some of us didn’t grow up with a lot of physical skills. That was definitely my experience. It was very empowering to feel more physically competent.

“I got all these books on weightlifting for women and they all start by reassuring you that your muscles won’t become too big and unsightly. I was like, f— that, I’m going to get huge,” she laughed.

As a teacher herself, Elizabeth was impressed with the experience she had as a student in the Learn to Ride class.

“It’s a class that gives you everything you need to start riding a bike,” she said, “from the material stuff like access to a bike and a helmet, to a supportive environment, to very hands-on instruction. I teach, so I know teaching is hard, and I was really impressed by the quality of instruction. One of the things in teaching a skill is to figure out the core pieces of it and how people can practice those, because the way you pick up the pieces doesn’t necessarily look like the whole thing together. And the instructors were really good at figuring that out and giving us new pieces a little at a time. It was totally accessible.”

And now the city is more accessible to Elizabeth, too.

“The Twin Cities are structured for car drivers to an astonishing degree,” she said. “So, a lot of the best things about the cities are not experienced by walking. To be confident with biking would help me to enjoy the best of what we have here.

“Since I’m most comfortable on trails, my main goal for now is to be able to just enjoy the outdoors more in Minneapolis. Especially since I don’t drive, it would also be really convenient to bike around the city, so that’s a long-term goal for me. There’s no farmers markets around me, so it’d be great to be able to get to farmers markets more easily.”

Upon reflection, Elizabeth related her adult bicycle education experience to other things people don’t always know how to do, which so often have stigmas around them.

“I teach a required statistics class that nobody wants to be in,” she explained. “One reason nobody wants to be there is the majority of my students have had bad experiences with math classes and feel like technical subjects are for someone else that’s not them. And one thing I have to convince them of is that everybody can learn math, and there’s a lot of power in being able to do that. They’re very skeptical of that. I think it would be cool to be able to tell my students that most of them know how to ride a bike but that’s something I didn’t know as an adult. It doesn’t mean it’s too late for you to learn just because everyone else already knows it.

“I think so many aspects of our culture make it hard to keep learning things when you’re an adult, but actually, everyone wants to keep learning new things. It’s such a deeply human drive. You need support to be able to do it. It’s hard to feel fully human if you aren’t learning something.”