It is the most basic of tropes about learning. It’s tricky to start with, but once you’ve learnt to ride a bike, you never forget.
Writing as someone who’s just started their fifth calendar decade of bicycle riding for pleasure, as someone who’s ridden up (and down) mountains, commuted by bike for years in various urban areas, and who’s taught his kids to ride, I’d just like to challenge this.
That’s right: I’ve bought a tandem for a very reasonable sum on EBay.
It’s a bike – it’s got only the two wheels – and it works in just the same way as all of the other bikes I’ve ever owned or ridden.
But it’s also very different. I now have to think about the other person on the machine and what they’re doing and how I will need to communicate what I’m doing.
And even getting past that, how I ride will have to change very markedly too: the brakes – like the bike – are relics of a past age, so assumptions of stopping distances will have to alter radically. As will my memory of indexed gear-shifting at my fingertips.
None of this is going to be helped by the fact that I’m going to keep on riding my other (‘normal’) bikes, so the potential for immersing myself into this is constrained, even if I can rustle up a family member to share this experience with me.
In short, I appear to have acquired a large metaphor for the learning process.
Right now, I’ve had this metaphor for a grand total of two days and I’ve got as far as the end of the road with it, so I’m still at the stage of not even being particular sure what it is that I will need to learn.
I’m especially worried about doing that learning with a loved one right there, learning too: the various scars on my body are testament to my periodic efforts to understand the limits of what I can do on a bike.
Much as could go back to that other great saying about bikes – when you fall off, you’ve just got to jump back on – the sense of responsibility is somewhat constraining. Indeed, much more so than I feel in a classroom when trying something new: at least there the failures don’t result in road rash or broken bones (unless something’s gone extremely wrong).
But I can also tell you that our short trip down the road also reduced us both to tears of laughter, so I already know that this can be an enjoyable process: indeed, that’s why I got the thing in the first place.
So if you find I’ve stopped posting here, then maybe it’s because I’m off having an adventure on a tandem with a loved one. Rather than because we’ve had a crash.