When learning to ride a bicycle, technical aspects like balance are a huge part of the learning process, but Cycles for Change Learn to Ride volunteer instructor, Juana Sandoval, has discovered that words of encouragement can be just as–if not more–helpful.
Juana, she/her/hers, has been volunteering as a Learn to Ride instructor with Cycles for Change for four years.
“I really like the Learn to Ride program,” she said. “I love that it’s adults. People hear ‘learn to ride”’ and they assume it’s children. I learned how to ride a bike as a kid, and it’s interesting to me because my dad taught me but he himself doesn’t know how to ride a bike.”
Since learning to ride herself, Juana’s bicycling has evolved over the years.
“I went to college in Boston, and Boston was not as bike-friendly then as it is now,” she explained. “But I briefly had a bike that I would ride to class and at some point it got stolen, so I rode around campus very little. I moved here [to Minneapolis] from Ohio, and when I was in Ohio I rediscovered bicycling. Some of my friends biked and the traffic was definitely less intense than in Boston, at least in my experience. I would occasionally bike to work but mostly biked around for fun or for errands.”
But the point in Juana’s bicycling timeline where things changed was when she had the opportunity to build her own bamboo bike.
“It was a weekend workshop,” she said. “There were people there to help you and you didn’t need any prior mechanic or bike-building experience. That was the first bike I had that I felt really fit me well. I sent in my measurements and they pre-cut the bamboo so the the frame is semi-custom.”
When moving from Ohio to Minneapolis, Juana’s plans didn’t go as, well, planned. So she decided to take a bike trip.
“I thought I would have a job when I moved to Minneapolis, but I didn’t, so I ended up taking the train from Minneapolis to Cleveland with my bamboo bike. I am an extremely slow rider, so I very slowly rode the Ohio to Erie Trail. Most of it is off-road and that was pretty cool. I ended up doing it by myself because my friends’ schedules didn’t match up, and it ended up being like a goodbye to Ohio.”
And while that solo ride was an experience all its own, Juana loves the camaraderie and community-building aspect of slow group rides.
“I’ve definitely gotten that sense of belonging on different group rides or from just riding with friends,” she said. “Biking is a great way to meet people, like on slower group rides. It’s the perfect pace for casual conversation. There’s a sense of camaraderie that you can get with biking with other people. You don’t have to be interested in doing a 50-mile ride or racing or gearing up your bike with super lightweight components so you can go faster. There’s still other people like me that want to go on casual rides.”
And this transfers over from Juana’s personal biking journey to her involvement with Learn to Ride students’ biking journeys. She’s had the opportunity to bike with Learn to Ride students on group rides after the 4-week classes are over, and she’s discovered how everyone experiences places differently on a bicycle.
“Biking gives people so much independence on an individual level,” she said. “You notice things on a bike that you don’t notice even on a bus. Whether its details like front lawns, or restaurants you haven’t noticed before, or the fact that you’re going up a hill–you don’t always notice them in a car or on a bus. And I think that there’s a growing awareness that different people experience the same public spaces differently. And it’s good to see people recognizing that people perceive a situation differently if it’s someone in spandex on an expensive bike versus someone on a Kmart bike. There are race and class and gender aspects to mobility justice.”
Something that keeps Juana coming back year after year to volunteer with the Learn to Ride program is how it helps bring more riders into the Twin Cities bicycling community.
“I like that it’s predominantly women and predominantly people of color taking the class. And it’s a very welcoming and encouraging space–it’s really refreshing to be in the space. I think, too, a lot of the students have this sense of being alone. When they take the class, they realize, ‘Oh, it’s not just me. There’s other people, other adults with lives who for whatever reason didn’t learn to ride a bike earlier.’ It’s awesome to see their excitement because they’re pedaling or going down a hill. I’ve seen children that learn and sometimes they’re just like, ‘Oh, that’s great’ because it’s one of 20 things they did for the first time that day and then they move on. So for the adults, it’s a bigger accomplishment.”
As an instructor, Juana teaches many things. But she’s also learned important things from Cycles for Change.
“One of the things C4C has taught me is how to be a cheerleader,” she said. “During the Learn to Ride classes we’re telling students technical things and tips, but because so much time is spent working on these things, it’s important for the students to hear cheerleading–being vocal about what they are doing right and having the attitude that everyone will get the hang of it. Some get it faster than others but the encouragement is a huge piece in the process.”
Juana’s advice for adults who are considering learning to ride a bike? There’s nothing wrong with not knowing how.
“It’s just one of those things; there’s nothing wrong with adults who don’t know how to ride a bike. Just like not everyone knows how to play the piano–there’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t know how to play the piano. There’s this myth that everyone learns how to ride a bike as a kid. Well, not everyone had a piano as a kid either.”
Interested in volunteering with Learn to Ride? Learn more here.