Biking For The First Time - At 28 Years Old

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

When I tell people I don’t know how to ride a bike, most of the reactions are like, “Ha?! Hindi ka marunong mag-bike?!” (What?! You don’t know how to ride a bike?!). They find it odd and surprising. People I know first learned how to maneuver a bicycle when they were kids (complete with knee pads, elbow pads, a helmet, and a bike with a pair of balancing wheels), but I never got to learn how to do it when I was little.

girl biking

I remember I was riding a bicycle with balancing/training wheels which I borrowed from a neighbor, but when my mother saw me, she was furious and commanded me to step down pronto. I was probably around 6 or 7 years old back then. Of course I can pedal on a stationary bike or a tri-bike/sidecar, but I just couldn’t find my balance on a bicycle.

When I ask friends, family and colleagues if I will ever learn how to bike, people have mixed opinions. They’d tell me it’s possible, but it’s going to be hard. They say biking is easy to learn when you’re still a child because children aren’t that afraid to fall and get wounded. Kids look at biking as a form of outdoor play so it makes sense they learn biking faster as compared to adults. Plus, their playmates are also learning with them, making the activity more fun and much easier.

So why do I still want to learn how to bike? Just like swimming, biking is one of the basic life skills. Of course, I’m afraid to get cuts and bruises. And depending on the gravity of any biking-related accident, it’s possible that healing won’t come soon. But then again, I want something crossed out on my bucket list and I only have one weekend to fulfill that.

So last weekend, I went with my fiancé to his hometown in Nueva Ecija, a province in the northern part of the Philippines, so he could teach me how to ride a bike. They live inside a university (CLSU) and during weekends, the streets are almost deserted. We borrowed my fiancé’s brother’s bike and off we go to a street where I can begin my morning biking lessons.

Tired and hopeless on day 1
The first 15 minutes was horrible. Aside from the fact that the lessons were on a mountain bike and that I could not pedal or even find my balance even if my fiancé was holding the bike, I was experiencing an uncomfortable feeling in the butt and lady parts area. The saddle was narrow and elongated and didn’t have enough cushion. I could not even maneuver the handlebar because I could feel the strain at my back from leaning forward, reaching the handlebar and then trying to pedal and finding my balance all at the same time. My fiancé probably didn’t have any idea how much that pained me physically and thought I wasn’t trying. It just didn’t give me the right posture and my body was aching all over in just a matter of 15 minutes.

So our temporary solution was to buy sanitary napkins (the overnight ones) and then wear two pads at the same time for added cushion (and to address my lady parts problem). There. Ok so the added cushion just briefly took the pain away, but I really wanted to learn. So after 30 more minutes of me complaining and my fiancé saying all the words of encouragement, I gave up. I complained more about my hurting back, that the mountain bike was heavy and too high for me, the road wasn’t cemented, it’s too hot and that basic surfing was definitely easier than biking 101 (because in one hour, I could already balance and stand on the surf board and I did that countless times). And yes, I cried a bit out of disappointment. Because at that time, I remembered what people said: It’s going to be hard. Because I’m old. Because it’s almost impossible to find my balance.

So we went home and had lunch and made a deal to try again in the afternoon when the sun’s almost set. Then I had my siesta for 3 hours because my body was just in total torture (ok, that was exaggerated, but you get the idea of a swollen body after hitting the gym after 4 months or years without exercise). In all honestly, I had the inkling of giving up (because I could hear myself complaining nonstop). Then my soon to be mother-in-law said we should buy a bicycle that I could handle. I knew from the very beginning I cannot learn the basics from a mountain bike because it’s not made for beginners like me. So we went to the market and bought an almost kiddie bike (well, it’s a teeny bopper bike haha!). I like that it’s purple, has a carrier and a basket and it’s not too high as the mountain bike. It even has the cruiser type handlebar which allows me to sit in an upright and comfortable position. The wheels are only 20 inches in diameter so I can easily stand up to refrain myself from falling during my biking lessons. Plus, it’s only Php 2,500 (around US $55) for a brand new bike!

Lottie, my first bike
We went to a cemented multi-purpose gym around 6:00pm and started with the lessons once again. Since I already knew how to pedal, my fiancé instructed me to figure out how to balance by maneuvering the handlebar left and right. He told me not to pedal yet as he assisted me on my left side while he held the saddle and pushed me forward. Then we turned around and did the same thing for about 5 to 10 minutes. After that I told him to just stay on the saddle because I really wanted to pedal. I don’t know, I just had my own little way of learning.

Slowly, he let go of me without me noticing that he’s no longer there to support me. Of course, I was still supporting myself by immediately planting my feet on the ground whenever I feel like I’m going to lose control of the handlebar. After 10 more minutes, I told my fiancé to just walk by my side without touching the bike and to tell me a story so that I won’t feel like someone’s watching me like a hawk while I learn how to balance. This is a trick I always do -- a distraction -- especially when I’m on the verge of panicking. We did that for 10 to 15 minutes. Whenever I feel like falling on the left side, I pulled the handlebar on the right. I don’t know why but I always “fall” on the left. After several minutes of practice, I was able to bike without falling for 5 seconds with hard turns and zigzag paths. I gripped the handlebar hard for my dear life because I don’t want to land on my butt, my side or my head.

Biking around Central Luzon State University

At around 6:45pm, we had the whole gym to ourselves so we brought Lottie towards the basketball court. My fiancé was still distracting me with stories when I used my right foot for momentum, gained speed, placed both my feet on the pedal, gently clasped the handlebar and slightly maneuvered left and right. At that point, I finally feel lighter. And then I found my balance. I left my fiancé speechless for a while. Even myself.

From  that moment on, I realized I was really riding a bike! Though I was just circling around the basketball court clockwise for several minutes, the feeling was actually free and light! I couldn’t go on a straight line because my hands were still finding their way to take over the handlebar but it was a start. And it made me really happy! The feeling was like diving for the first time or being able to see the Eiffel Tower with all its sparkle at night. Mission accomplished!

So the smooth-surface court aided me in my first successful attempt at biking. But then again, tomorrow’s another day.

Me and Xoce biking on a Sunday morning
The next day, we woke up at 6:30am and set off around the beautiful and nature-enveloped university. I love how the wind breezed through the early morning sunshine, making the morning bike very enjoyable. My biking skills aren’t polished yet and I need more practice, but at least I got to ride a bike continuously for more than a minute without stopping. My fiancé and I biked on concrete and asphalt roads, even chip seal streets and rocky pavements with caution. I conquered left and right turns, U-turns, humps, stones, cracks and hollows on streets and even avoided people walking on the road! I’m not yet confident biking on narrow streets and busy roads so whenever a motorcycle or a car was about to pass by, I stopped and let other vehicles pass first. Finally, I had my first share of falling down at the gutter and getting my first ever bruise from biking. Like they say, falling down and getting yourself hurt is part of the learning process (and this applies not only to biking but to all life situations). I’m fine with bruises, but hopefully I don’t end up with serious wounds.

I left my purple bike in Nueva Ecija so I could bike my way around the university again after a month or two. I didn’t want to forget my newly-learned skill so I bought a surplus lady bike in Manila. I like the old school charm of this bike I named Annie. I got it for only Php 2,500 which is already cheap considering this is Japan-made. I was thinking of getting a foldable bike but the foldable ones exceeded my budget. Most of the available foldable bikes don’t have a basket and a cruiser handlebar. Plus, I like Annie’s style similar to Lottie so that practicing with a new bike won’t be too taxing for a beginner like me.

Annie, my Manila bike
I also considered buying a cheap, new bike from a local store here in our place, but the Japan surplus bikes had more comfortable and cushioned saddles and the quality is better than the new ones. I don’t know much about bike parts but when the bike has a comfortable and cushioned saddle and a cruiser handlebar to keep my posture upright, it’s good enough for me. I also like something efficient like a front basket, bike stand and working brakes. I just need to practice more because my Manila bike has 24-inch wheels which intimidate me a bit. Now all I need is a bike bell!

So at 28 years old, I learned how to ride a bicycle for two consecutive days, working on the basics for 4 hours. See, it’s not impossible! Setting your mind in doing something is one thing. Finding the right equipment and materials to help you achieve that goal is another. It’s not too late to learn, especially when you’re still physically capable of biking. Let go of your fears and don’t be afraid to fall -- literally.

Mission accomplished on day 2!
3 Quick Tips on Learning How to Ride a Bike for the First Time:

1. If you’re an adult learning how to bike for the first time, start with a bike that has 20-inch wheels. You can also use 24 or 26-inch wheels if you’re taller. I used the 20-inch ones because I’m only 5’2”.

2. For women, pick a bike that has an adjustable saddle (for height) with proper cushioning. Women’s bikes have a wider saddle than BMX and mountain bikes.

3. Practice on a smooth, cemented surface like an outdoor basketball court in your village. If you live in a condo like I do, practice on the parking lot. This will help you improve your balance which makes the learning experience more enjoyable.

Did you like my bike story? What biking tips can you give for beginners like me? Share this post and inspire others to learn!

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  1. This story really amused me! I'm 25 and as a New Year's resolution, decided to learn to ride a bike so I can level up to a motorbike and end up saving more from commuting! Anyway I was looking for 'classes' in Google and ended up with your blog. Hahaha not what I was looking for, but great tips! :))) Thanks much! And I hope all is well with you and your biking goals now :) More power to you!

    1. Thank you! I hope you're doing great with your New Year's Resolution :)

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  3. I hope I could learn too.. I am inspired by this.

  4. I'm 30 and want to learn how to bike. Where in Manila can I practice? I wouldn't imagine it to be safe out in the road. Thanks

    1. Hello! You can start in your own village or in a basketball court like I did. But if you prefer enough space, UP Diliman closes theor academic oval every Sunday so people can run and bike safely. Just bring your own bike. Another location would be in Filinvest Alabang every Sunday. There's a bike rental there according to my colleague. Good luck!

    2. You can also go here for free bike lessons:

  5. Replies
    1. Hello! There's a nearby Japan Surplus store near our place.


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