Richard Lau, Learn to Ride participant

What happens when a person is given the task of teaching children how to ride a bicycle when they don’t know how to ride one themself?

This is what Richard Lau experienced a few years ago.

“I never learned to ride a bike as a kid,” Richard said. “It was a combination of things: no one in my family knew how to ride a bike and I’m not sure we could have afforded a bike at that time in our lives. So I went years without knowing how to ride. I tried over the years to learn and people even tried to help me but I could never figure it out. It was like a mental block; I couldn’t do it.”

Richard, originally from Hawaii, came to Minnesota 21 years ago to attend the U of MN for law school.

“I had no intentions of staying (after school),” he said, “but I met my wife, we had kids, and now I’m here. It’s kind of one of those things where I had no connections to the Midwest; I got an offer and I came here. It just so happened that my college roommate, Pete, was here doing his Ph.D. at the U. So I came to visit him and I liked the people–they were really nice. Pete made me watch Fargo, which was in theaters. And it was funny because I thought it was a funny movie. But then I lived here for a while, and I thought it was a way funnier movie and I got some of the jokes. But then I lived here even longer and it wasn’t as funny anymore because it was true,” he laughed.

Besides the truth of the Minnesotan accent, what also remained true was that Richard did not know how to ride a bike. But as his children got older, they wanted to learn to ride.

“I remember one time when my oldest daughter was four or five,” Richard said. “She was riding and was a bit out of control and my wife was telling me to have her hit the brakes and I was thinking, I don’t know how to hit the brakes!” he recalled.

This was the turning point that motivated Richard to finally learn how to ride a bike.

“I looked around wondering if there was an adult bike class,” he said. “I stumbled on this (Cycles for Change) class by accident. I actually considered getting adult training wheels but my wife said that’s not how you do it. I’m just really flabbergasted at how I had this mental block for years and years and years. My wife knows how to ride and she tried for years to help me. I think I can actually say now that I’ve learned how to ride a bike. Not confidently, but it’s getting there, and I’m looking at buying a bike.”

Balance is the fundamental foundation of learning to ride a bike. And for Richard, so was classmate support.

“First and foremost, it’s just about balancing on a bike,” he said. “And then–and it’s not really something that was taught or learned–it was nice to see how supportive everyone was. It was maybe the second class, and I was so focused on not falling off the bike and hurting myself and was so focused on figuring out how to ride. It was tunnel vision, and I wasn’t paying attention to what everyone else was doing. The first time I rode out to the middle of the baseball field everyone cheered and clapped for me and it reminded me to be more mindful of being supportive of everyone in the group.”

Learn to Ride is all about building skills–from gliding to turning to braking–but what a lot of students don’t realize until they are actually in the class is that it also builds community.

“There is a broad spectrum of people in the class,” Richard explained, “and change is being made, people are excited, confidence is growing, and it can build a whole community. We are in this together.”

The Learn to Ride classes have sparked a new interest in Richard. Next steps for him are not only purchasing a bicycle, but also learning more about how they operate and how he operates while riding one.

“I’d like to learn more about how bikes actually work, how to repair them, how to take care of them,” he said. “And just being able to connect with other people who are also beginning riders. When we get in our cars and we’re in this bubble, we are isolated from the world. This, as opposed to walking and not being in that bubble and interacting with other people. If you are isolated in your bubble, you lack a certain perspective.”

And aside from connecting with other adult riders, this is the perfect opportunity for Richard to connect with his children in a new way.

“I want to ride more and encourage my kids to ride their bikes more, encourage them to be healthier,” he said. “It’s the same thing that most parents feel: oh, it’s beautiful outside, go outside and play. And this is an opportunity for me to be outside with them. I find it funny that I can clearly remember my parents saying go outside and play, and in Hawaii it’s always nice. But here, you really mean it when it’s nice out.”