"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do."
I am afraid of a lot of stuff. I won't swim in nature water, I don't like to drive, and ever since that time I hit a parked car when I was seven, I have not been terribly fond of bikes. Living in a city like Austin, where bikes are so prevalent, I get some strange looks when I tell people I don't know how to ride a bike. Let me be clear, I understand the mechanics of riding a bike in theory, but I have a hard time reconciling the idea of flying through the streets on a tiny metal contraption, in the company of cars driven by crazy people, with nothing but a plastic hat separating me from certain death.
That said, at the beginning of 2015, I set out to make this the year Rainis gets on a bike. Fortunately, I have a very bike savvy (and patient) friend with an extra bike and helmet, and we decided to have a bike themed Thursdate yesterday. It got off to a bit of a rocky start (her words: "Dude, I thought you were going to call it quits within the first minute"), but I'm excited to report I made it through a mostly successful five mile ride (I walked a couple of hills because I'm still not cool with going fast). I may have been riding slower than I normally run, but I was riding. And dare I say, I think I actually had fun!
Obviously, this doesn't make me a cycling expert (or enthusiast even), but as an overly analytical person who's had a handful of unsuccessful biking attempts in my adult life, I began to think about what made this particular outing such a success. I came up with five factors, all of which can just as easily apply to other activities. So, read on, then go out for that ride (or run, or horseback ride, etc.)!
Go with someone who knows what they're doing
I've tried riding bikes with friends who haven't done it for a long time. It sucks. They know enough to make it without hurting themselves, but don't quite have the confidence to help you get over your very real fear of falling off your bike and subsequently having your head run over by a semi. The friend I rode with yesterday has been an avid member of the cycling community in Austin for a few years, and is familiar with how riding in groups works. She also knows enough about how not to fall off her bike, so she was able to talk me through how to not fall off mine.
Try making your conditions as ideal as possible
My friend and I initially had grand plans of biking to Zilker Park, which would have taken us up and down hills and along a pretty major road. Yesterday morning, she proposed an amended route that did not involve the park, but rather a meandering ride around her quiet North Austin neighborhood. The absence of heavy traffic and a more casual setting allowed me to relax and focus on staying upright. Had we gone with the original plan, I would have probably wound up walking the bike most of the way, never wanting to ride a bike again. Instead, I built a little confidence, and am looking forward to our next ride.
Remove the pressure from the situation
This ties in with making your conditions ideal. By changing our route, that removed the stress of having to use our bikes as a mode of transportation. The only purpose of yesterday's ride was to get outside, get on a bike, and get a little exercise. Eliminating any real consequences of not finishing the ride made for a more relaxed and enjoyable experience.
Make it Fun
It definitely didn't hurt that the bike I got to ride was bright orange (my favorite color!) and my friend was playing Michael Jackson on a wireless speaker for our whole ride.
Don't let yourself get discouraged
It's super easy to feel stupid or disappointed in yourself when you are struggling to master riding a bicycle and you see a toddler whiz by you. The expression, "It's just like riding a bike!" usually refers to something simple or natural to our being. Little kids are small, and don't have as far to fall, and they aren't world weary enough to know all the awful shit that can actually happen to you while riding a bike. The people who go on 100 mile bike rides daily in full on spandex tour kits? They don't just wake up one morning and decide to do that. You're not going to be amazing at something the first time you do it, and that's OK. If you were the absolute best at everything you tried and never had the opportunity to improve, it would get boring quickly. Don't focus on the struggles. Instead, celebrate the little victories, and let that be the incentive that gets you back out there to try again (and again!).
A lot of these things are common sense, but if you're anything like me, a little reminder once in a while never hurts. I'm looking forward to my next ride. Who knows? Maybe we'll tackle a trip to Zilker Park, and once there, I might even try to conquer my fear of nature water.