I Believe in Riding a Bike
As you whiz by in your car, you may see me. Just a glimpse in your rearview mirror of a middle-aged woman moving up a hill on her bicycle. I say “moving” because it’s just as likely that I will be pushing it as riding it. I say “moving” because I will be doing just that – moving my sassy, spandex-covered self through the world, pedal-stroke by pedal-stroke. I’m getting from point A to point B under my own power.
In my professional life, I am the founder, or “Chief Executive Jane,” of See Jane Ride. I teach bicycling skills to women of all ages and fitness levels. My goal is to inspire women to see what they are truly capable of. Accomplishments that are often surprising, and life-changing.
One afternoon I planned a fifteen-mile route for half a dozen beginners. The route slowly wound its way over the rolling hills and green pasturelands of central Pennsylvania, with one long hill around the three-mile mark. As I described the route to the women before the ride, many of them looked uneasy. But, only one articulated why.
She said she was worried she was too out of shape to make it up the hill. She suggested that she should come back in a few weeks, waiting until she was in better shape, before attempting the ride – and the hill. I asked her if she felt she could walk up the hill, pushing her bike instead of riding it. “Probably,” she replied, “but I might have to stop.” Then I asked her if after walking or stopping, she thought she could try pedaling a bit more just to see what happened. She said she felt embarrassed, but would try.
With our fears expressed, we all mounted our bikes. One mile passed, then two. When we got to the hill that had elicited the worried looks, I asked each woman to stop, get off her bike, and simply push it up the hill. At the top, we all got back on our bikes and easily finished the full fifteen miles. As we finished the ride, we were six women – vital, energetic, alive, and astonished by our accomplishment.
Riding a bicycle? It’s well, like riding a bicycle – it’s easy, and we never forget how. What we do forget is how to deconstruct absolutes that we’ve created or adopted through the years. We forget that we are able-bodied women who raise families, earn paychecks, and balance the demands of life. We forget that we are perpetually living in a state of sublime imperfection. Maybe we forget, or maybe we just never learn it.
I believe the definition of riding a bicycle implicitly include walking, stopping, resting, and then continuing, or stopping altogether if necessary. By giving myself permission to ride imperfectly and without embarrassment, shame, or self-derision, I give myself permission to move through the world under my own power. I give myself permission to see my life as a long ride complete with walks, rests, and back-tracking. But, a life clearly in motion, with me at the handlebars.