20 February 2013

Like Riding a Bicycle

I was ten when I learned to ride a bike. That was late. Everyone elese I knew already rode bikes, except for my mother and my sister who had declared it impossible. There seemed to be some hope for me, so my parents bought me a bike, and one afternoon my father drove me and the bike over to the stadium parking lot so I could ride without fear of crashing into trees or cars. The fact that I might crash into the pavement was not a significant concern.

I honestly don't remember much about that day, except that we spent most of the afternoon in that parking lot. I don't think I did crash into the ground because I have a significant fear of failure. I hopped off the seat and planted my feet firmly on the ground whenever there was any risk that I might go so fast as to actually lose control.

I hate being out of control.

I would wobble, wobble, hop off, wobble, hop off. At one point I got some actual momentum going and ended up riding over a ditch which bounced the seat of my bike right up into my crotch and anyone who thinks that didn't hurt because I'm a woman is utterly wrong.

My father wouldn’t allow me to quit, so wobble, wobble, hop off, wobble I went until my father with his greater knowledge of both bicycles and angular momentum must have been near despair. What he knew was that once the bike was really moving it would be nearly impossible for it to just fall over. There would be no wobble if I would just surrender to the physics of the thing.

By the end of the afternoon I was gliding creditably, not yet convinced that the physics really worked in my case, but not a danger to my self or others on my quiet residential street.

The  "just like riding a bicycle" exists for a reason, and I've never really forgotten what I learned that day. But I am still afraid of falling and failure, and if I get on a bike after a long absence my three semesters of college physics and my years of practical experience don't quite overcome the fear, so that my first first few yards are forever wobble, wobble, hop off, wobble, until I learn, again, to surrender.


  1. In my defence, riding a bicycle was actually impossible for me. Of course, standing upright on my own two feet is sometimes difficult, too.

    1. Ah,but once you get going, riding a bicycle is actually easier than standing on your own two feet. Also, I don't recall if you got the full afternoon in the parking lot with Dad.

    2. I got several full afternoons in the parking lot with Dad. Believe me, my lack of bike-riding skillz is not because I didn't try.

  2. Exactly right, this. I learned with my father, too ... which is odd, considering I rode almost exclusively with my mom later. And I will not forget going around the block the first time, and hitting the part of the pavement that was slanted because of the tree roots. I was sure I was going to topple over. That I couldn't possibly balance on a surface that was SLANTED, for crying out loud. I think I fell once, but it wasn't because of the pavement. It was because I was convinced I would fall.

  3. This is a metaphor, isn't it? I just don't know what it's a metaphor for. Life, maybe?

    1. Technically the use of the word "Like" in "Like riding a bicycle" makes it a simile. And while it may be one of those, it's also literally true.

      Writing feels like that sometimes.



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