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Learning to ride a bike for the first time -- as an adult

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About two dozen cyclists are huddled in a corner of Smith’s Cycles in Torrance, Calif. Amid the rows of bicycles and racks of Spandex and energy bars, Kellie Morris is teaching a class on bike safety.

“The rules of the road, believe it or not, are in the California Vehicle Code, because as a bicyclist, you’re considered to be a vehicle,” Morris instructs her students.

Morris isn’t your typical hard-bodied bicycle instructor. First, she’s 62.

“I’m a double minority as an African American and woman — triple, as an old lady, too, with lots of gray hair,” Morris said. “And then I’m overweight, so I don’t look like one of the greyhounds that ride on those road bikes.”

In other words, she understands the concerns of her students, many of whom are in the same age bracket and physical shape.

A national survey from global research company, YouGov, found six percent of adults don’t know how to ride a bike. Some of them never learned as children. Others simply forgot how.

Like a lot of older Americans, Morris grew up riding bicycles, but she gave it up midlife after getting married, having kids and working in corporate America. She was in her 40s when she rediscovered bicycling as a way to get in shape.

That’s why Annie Goldbach is in the saddle taking Morris’s class. She’s 65.

“I’m a weak rider in terms of trying to keep up with the group,” Goldbach said. “I’m still learning a lot of the rules.”

Goldbach says she wasn’t athletic growing up. She preferred what she calls more girly things like piano and ballet. She decided to take up riding two years ago to get more fit.

“And it was hard,” Goldbach said. “I didn’t have a bike that was fitted to me. Luckily, I didn’t fall on that bike.

The fear of falling is the number one fear of Morris’s clients.

“If you haven’t been on a bike in 40 years, the traffic situation is very different, and even your mental state of mind is different,” Morris said. “I find that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more fearful.”

It’s a legitimate anxiety. Injuries can be more traumatic and sustained for older adults. But cyclists have to get over their fears. Bicycle riding is a mental, as well as physical, exercise, Morris said.

It’s motor skills and training your body to respond without needing to think it through. And that starts with learning balance.

“The first thing you do when you get a bike is to take the pedals off,” said Morris, who has her bicycle training certification from the League of American Bicyclists. “You have people first walk with the bike, and then you have them coast, so they scoot along, and they lift their feet off the ground.”

Morris doesn’t believe in training wheels.
“I don’t recommend training wheels for children or older people. Not at all,” she said.

Learn to balance first, and pedaling will become second nature. But learning to ride a bike doesn’t stop there.

Back in class, there’s still lots of questions for Morris — like how not to crash.

The road can be scary, no matter how old you are. But for those who dream of pedaling into their sunset years, Morris sends them off with wisdom and a gentle push that says, yes, they can do it.