It is often said that “you never forget how to ride a bike.” If you Google that phrase you will get links to at least two article purporting to explain the scientific principles that seem to confirm the veracity of the claim. That the two articles I read offered different explanations doesn’t really matter, because, in the long run, the last time I was on a bike, I fell off…or more literally, I fell over.
I should mention here that I am, or rather, was, an experienced bike rider. I started riding when I was 7 or 8, and cycling has been an important activity for me ever since, until a few years ago. I have ridden in the city and in the country; on the plains and in the mountains; in sunshine and pouring rain; with the wind and against it; for pleasure and for commuting. I rode over 50 miles a day one summer when I didn’t own a motor vehicle and had three jobs in widely separated parts of Denver. In 1980, Katie and I rode several hundred Kilometers in the first bicycle tour of China.
I loved cycling. It was truly invigorating. In all those years, I only hit the ground once, when I hit a sandy spot during a turn. Fortunately, I was wearing gloves and a helmet, and suffered only minor abrasions.
A few years back, several factors conspired to keep me off my bike: heart surgery, spinal surgery, and moving to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It seemed like I wouldn’t be able to ride again, so I sold my bike to Liza’s boyfriend. But last year I thought I should give cycling another chance. It would be nice to ride with Katie, get some exercise, and enjoy the outdoors. So Katie and I found a bike shop in Charlottesville and decided to go for a test ride.
The first thing I discovered was that I couldn’t throw my leg over the back of the bike to mount it…mostly due to my inability to balance – a condition caused by peripheral neuropathy that limits proprioceptive feedback from my feet and legs. Two years ago I discovered that I can’t maintain a standing position unless I can see my feet.
[proprioception. (prō’prē-ō-sěp’shən) The unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself.]
Fortunately, bicycles come in many frame styles and a I found a step-through model that I could get on and off without incident. We took the bike into the parking lot in front of the store and I started my test ride. Boy, did that feel great! I was mobile again, after at least three years without a ride. I felt like I was enough in control to take the bike onto the adjoining street, but just as I was exiting the driveway, a car turned onto the street, coming in my direction.
I turned back toward the parking lot, full of confidence, and promptly found myself lying on the ground on my left side holding onto the bike as though I still had control. As near as I can recall, when I turned, my right foot slipped off of the pedal. While looking down to get it back in position, I twisted the handle bar too far to the left, and went over. Fortunately, neither the bike nor my body was damaged. Katie wheeled the bike back to the shop and I limped to the car, too embarrassed to face the bike salesman.
So I didn’t actually forget how to ride a bike, but clearly it would not be a good idea for me to think about getting back on two wheels again.
Hmmmm. Two wheels bad, but three wheels???? It would be a lot harder to fall off a tricycle.