Learning to ride a bike—and to accept I don’t know everything yet

There should be no time limit on learning new things

Image by: Curtis Heinzl
Suzy learned to ride a bike when she was twenty.

While feeling the burn in my thighs and the wind streaking through my hair as twenty-year-old me biked in circles around the same roundabout for the fifth time, I understood it’s normal to learn things on your own time.

I’ve fallen off my bike many times. It’s been so many times I’ve lost count of the way my plastic tires skidded, and my knees kissed the pavement, leaving a bloody smear on the gravel.

Looking back, I see certain milestones my mother expected me to achieve in the years of swimming lessons, Kumon, and watercolor classes. She wanted me to foster a sense of creativity and feel free to explore my curiosities, while learning how to commit to a trade and master a skill.

Despite all the successes I had in painting, sculpture, and swimming, conquering the bike alluded me until I was twenty.

My cousin Chris is eight years older than me. Athletic, driven, and extremely patient, he chased me around my grandparent’s small neighborhood on the bluffs of Scarborough in an effort to show me the freedom of riding a bike. He held the fake leather seat as I peddled as fast as I could, but the second he let go, gravity expelled me to the ground.

I got tired of the ceaseless falling.

I was too afraid to tear my eyes from the road in front of me, but unable to lift my head more than a few feet to see the cars ahead. I felt the heavy weight of the metal jerk beneath me, the gears grinding as I squeezed the break in breathless desperation to slow down—for a moment.

The momentum scared me. The speed of the bike, too fast to control, made the world blur into watercolor images and induced of nausea in my stomach.  

When spring came around, the bike came out of retirement from my grandparents’ garage and I jumped in the saddle all over again.

As the story goes, I never learned. I became a spectacle for the masses—my family—and couldn’t escape the continuous failure of never learning how to travel more than two feet on my own.

However, two summers ago, I entered Walmart with intention. 

Fueled with the drive to ride a bike and escape the COVID-19 prison that trapped me in my small Toronto apartment, I looked at the turquoise, metal, frilly baskets and heavy-duty locks until I came across a red BMX bike for young boys. Sadly, passing on a limited-edition Frozen bike, featuring Elsa in all her winter glory, I gravitated towards the small size and nimble wheels of the cheap BMX one.

The embarrassment of having my family watch me bruise my arms and legs every summer made me want to teach myself how to conquer this skill. It took me two summers to get my stride.

I stayed in Kingston this past summer, giving tours and walking for hours in the glaring sun. Despite the physical fatigue, I was overwhelmed by mental exhaustion and leaned on teaching myself how to bike as a getaway car from all my little problems.

I set up the brake, put my hands on the handlebars, and cruised down Mack Street, pretending I was fifteen again and playing the lead in a teen romance novel. The skinny white wires of my earphones dangled above my sweaty black uniform as “Little Lies” by Fleetwood Mac blasted through the speakers. The glorious sun setting behind me put the world in a hazy orange, as the leaves whistled in the humid air above. 

This image, and the time I spent on myself, will remain a cherished part of my only summer in Kingston. I felt proud to have learned something new, despite the age at which I did.

These kinds of lessons are important to acknowledge because they remind you there’s no age at which we should know things.

At some point in my time as a university student, I felt a need to prove I was not only book smart, but street smart—that I can live on my own, pay my bills, and be a responsible adult who settles their taxes on time. However, I still don’t know how to file my taxes on my own, navigate Kingston, or make a U-turn on my bike.

I’m 21 now, and I’ve suddenly approached this age where telling people you don’t know how to ride a bike or drive a car is not only weird but embarrassing.

I don’t know when pretending to know things and really knowing things became the same.

Instead of admitting I didn’t have any knowledge on a topic beyond the cursory view, I faked it to make myself seem more experienced. I pretended I knew subjects or life skills I hadn’t heard of or made the effort to know.

I too believed you should know everything by twenty. You should have your life together, your future planned, your career started, your relationship ready for marriage—every step just a movement in the right direction towards that cookie cutter life.

Growing up, I romanticized notions of adult life and assumed I needed to know everything all at once. The truth is, I won’t ever know everything, just because I’m a fourth year, or just because I live on my own, or because of any other future milestone I reach.

I’m learning to go back and slow down. It’s okay to pace yourself and admit when you don’t know things today so you can learn them tomorrow.

Most people learn how to ride a bike when they’re seven. I learned when I was 20, and I’m okay with that.


Age, bikes, growth, Lessons

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