By MARY H. K. CHOI
Published: June 27, 2013
When my boyfriend moved to Brooklyn from San Francisco last fall, he left behind a two-person tent, several skateboards, a racing bike, a city bike and a motorcycle. He is outdoorsy and I am not, and his first New York winter was wretched. In California, he planned vacations around 150-mile rides, and weekends began with a jaunt to Ocean Beach with a loop back through Golden Gate Park. It’s all he talked about in February. And again in March. There were also lots of reminders how, after a year of dating long-distance, he moved East because I laughed in his face at the prospect of moving West. As grand gestures went, I was in the red.
Late last month, when the Citi Bike sharing program arrived in New York, all he wanted to do was ride on blue bikes with me in the sun, and I couldn’t muster a convincing objection. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know how to ride one. He volunteered to teach me (just as valiant beaus before him have tried), but the way I see it, no adult should have to supplicate herself to such a trust exercise. It’s humiliating. I am a 33-year-old woman, and he is not my dad.
It was during a jog around Brooklyn Bridge Park that I noticed an adults-only bike-riding class. (I like to run by the water because cardio is important and because I like to plan escape routes in the event of an apocalypse.) I signed up online, and a week later, at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, I found myself waiting with 20 other grown-ups for a two-hour session taught by an instructor and three volunteers.
The class was noticeably Central Casting. Together we could have composed a convincing airport tableau, a community-college course or a depiction of an outer borough for a Spider-Man movie. The ages varied, there were two sets of couples and all but three students were people of color. There was even a Mets fan.
We were subjected to name tags, and I decided to try to buy into the positive vibe. We were also given helmets. Mine was pearlescent white with pink flowers, and apparently if the helmet fits, you have to wear it, despite how determined you are to switch it out for the plain gray one. We lined up in order of height to be matched with a bike.
We were taught the “balance first” method, which means you scooch along with your feet until you gain enough momentum to swing them up. I was relieved and horrified that we didn’t have training wheels. At first, our bikes didn’t have pedals, but a half-hour in, I saw a woman sail by with some. It was then that I became convinced that we’d be graded on a curve, so I raced to get my own set of pedals. My competitive spirit did not necessarily jibe with my skill level.
Learning to ride a bike in a public park means anyone can see you. This was plenty insulting, but I took special offense at the sleep-deprived puffy couples with squawking newborns openly delighting in our discomfort. These wan goons I derided sotto voce for bringing their squealing offspring to brunch or for clogging up the sidewalk were momentarily cooler than I, and that was unbearable.
I crashed into a fence. I crashed into a garbage can filled with extra pedals. I crashed into a woman whose jeans had a design that caught my eye. Evidently, staring at an obstruction guarantees you’ll steer into it. I wish one of the teachers had pointed this out, because it seems important. Pro tip: Engaging your core does nothing. Bonus tip: Spin class is wrong.
I narrowly missed a man only by dangling my leg into the frame and falling. This encouraged an instructor to remind me that I had brakes. Again, I found it unconscionable that I was not informed of this earlier. I pulled over for a lesson on gears. I needed the break anyway because my, um, pelvic girdle felt bruised.
In 45 minutes, I could ride a bike. In 75 minutes, I could go in a straight line near indefinitely and make right-hand turns. I know I’ll eventually master the left because I did not get into this to be the Derek Zoolander of bike riding. One thing I did learn straightaway, however, is that people with baby seats on their bikes are maniacs who should be locked up. As a new cyclist, I get a vote, and the added cargo’s way too dicey, especially on turns, particularly if there are cars or pebbles.
That said, biking with a kid is O.K. if you are forced to flee via your previously devised escape route because of a tsunami or zombies. But man, that kid better be wearing a helmet. Preferably a plain gray one.
Mary H. K. Choi is a writer in New York.