The first time I learned to ride a bike was before I was in the double digit age range.
Little did I know, back then, but learning to cycle introduced me to some of life’s most important lessons—such as the value and appreciation of people’s time, gaining a sense of self and my first taste of the thrill of adventure and freedom.
As an adult, I relearned the joys of biking, for different, but also reinforcing reasons.
As a child, I was painfully shy and often felt awkward and scared around other people. Except of course, my family.
Since I had issues fitting in at school and was often lonely, I looked forward to the quality time spent with my family, who were helpful and patient during the bicycle riding learning process. Even though I am sure they probably had better things to do, they always made time for me and I am forever grateful for this.
My father would praise me then and still claims to this day that I caught on quickly. I am sure that part of the reason I was anxious to learn to ride was so I could join alongside my older brother, making me instantaneously cooler.
When I would outgrow one bike, my father included me in the shoping and buying process of the next, so I could pick out just the right one (a pink one of course!) to fit my liking. It was a chance for self-expression and even more so, to show me that my opinion mattered in making decisions.
As my skills improved, I was allowed to ride off on my own—a kid’s first true experience of freedom, a chance to wander and do my own thing.
Those solo rides were a happy escape from the teasing other children inflicted upon me. It allowed me to be adventurous, carefree and be rid of the label of the “shy girl.” And most importantly it gave me that chance to not worry, and just be.
But then as life progressed, the carefree time spent during childhood came to a halting stop. Before I even entered my teen years, I had stopped riding my bike.
I stopped riding for almost two decades.
In my early 20s I moved to Europe, where people rode their bikes as a way of life, a way of commute, a way of being.
Even though I wanted this to be the chance for me to jump at the opportunity again, my early years of adulthood were still filled with much self-doubt and overly nervous and cautious tendencies.
What if I couldn’t learn how to ride again? What if I got hurt trying? And even more importantly—what if I looked stupid trying to learn?
Shortly before one of my classmates was set to move out of the country, she came to me and said “I notice that you always take the bus. You can have my bike when I leave.”
There it was, I had inherited a bike.
Though I would like this to be the part of the story where I proclaim how I seized this lucky opportunity and rediscovered my bike riding passion, it is not. Instead I let the bike sit outside, in front of my dormitory, until I noticed one day (the day I planned to ride it) that it was stolen.
As fate would have it, a few weeks later, I saw my stolen bike parked out in front of another student dormitory nearby. Anticipation filled me and I rushed back to my dormitory and excitedly explained to my roommate what I had just discovered. He gladly enlisted his help in the project to steal back my bike.
He liked a challenge and a bit of danger and so did I.
A few hours later the two of us stood in the midnight light holding hedge clippers and successfully cut off the lock on my stolen bike.
Immediately I wanted to start riding again, trying right there in the darkness, but this resulted in me toppling over repeatedly and ending up covered in cuts and scrapes.
My bruised body (and ego) had had enough of riding for that day. I parked my bike in front of my building leaving it untouched for weeks, until once again it was stolen. This time however, I did not have the luck nor desire to recapture it.
Fast forward five more years.
I had a new job and a new apartment that were conveniently located less than two miles from one another. It would be an easy commute. Especially if I were to ride a bike.
This was a start of a new beginning for me in many ways and I knew the time had come once again push myself and give bike riding a try.
I started checking the classified ads for a pre-loved bike to save some costs and within a few weeks I found a girl, around my height, anxious to get out of town, and even more anxious to get her used bike off her hands and into mine.
Since I had no one to personally teach me, I watched some videos on the internet, as well as made careful observations of children also just starting out on their riding adventures to reform a comfortable understanding of how to get the wheels (or well, tires) in motion.
In the beginning, I was sometimes a bit too overzealous in my riding capabilities and would take a curve too fast and land in a bush, or misjudge the height of the curb and end up flipping over and slicing my hand wide-open upon landing, but I would just wipe myself off, bandage myself up when needed, take a deep breath and get back on the bike.
I learned that brief moments of failure did and do not matter. All that mattered was I knew what I wanted and persisted, which ultimately lead to success and being able to then pedal myself confidently and proud around town and to work.
My daily quarter-hour bike commute is more than just my means of transportation. It’s the time of day I most look forward to.
I no longer have to worry about if I have enough money on me for a bus ticket or stress that I am going to miss the bus or if I will even be able to squeeze in during the heavy commute time. Riding my bike gives me the freedom to come and go when I please.
Some days my ride serves as the time to think out my day. Other times it is used for moments of reflection or to ponder about “what I want to do with my life.”
Most of the times though it is just a moment to simply enjoy my surroundings and appreciate the beauty around me. My ride calmingly welcomes me into the day or satisfyingly concludes another one.
It has become a sort of personal challenge to not just endure, but to thrive and embrace riding in all weather. Wind. Rain. Snow. No matter what, I tough it out—living my no excuses, bad*ss lifestyle (or at least I like to perceive it that way).
I have pedaled through sunny days, happily welcoming the feeling of the rays of the sun beating down on my smiling face.
I have pedaled through windy, cloudy days where I have learned to not loathe, but rather appreciate the feel of a strong breeze touching my cheek or the sensation of it blowing through my hair.
I rode through moments of happiness. I have ridden through times of sadness and heartache. I rode through it all.
Riding my bike has helped me to find an inner toughness, a way to work out my own problems and worries. The joy of wanting to be more active and more adventurous by traveling and cycling across foreign faraway lands or just exploring the little town I live in from a new prospective.
Choosing to ride my bike is kind of a metaphor for how I live my life—no matter what, I keep on going.
Author: Gabrielle Byko
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock