Both my parents were apparently very keen cyclists in their youth. Mum tells me that as a young girl, she would think nothing of cycling the 20 miles to see her granny and then cycling back. Dad used to boast that he would go on 50-mile cycle rides to Chester and back at the weekends with one of his friends. Odd then, that they never taught any of their three children to ride a bike.
They were also supremely keen tennis players, spending the long summer evenings whacking a ball around a court to each other and were regular tennis champions of their club. It is, in fact, how they met. Dad is supposed to have been pulling faces at Mum as they faced each other in mixed doubles, trying to put her off. He had yet to realise how keenly competitive she was and, at the age of 94, still is. Stand her in front of a ping pong table and you will soon be lunging and gasping as she chuckles, sending the ball flying past you to score another point. Again, odd that they never taught their children hand-eye coordination skills. My children know exactly how to panic me- throw something at me.
Parenting now, is all about the hands-on. Children are coaxed into any number of sports and activities, ferried around, watched over, praised and encouraged. My childhood was generally leave the house at 9am and don’t return until 5. My parents had no idea where we were and never did know, unless we had managed to damage ourselves in some way and staggered back home before the allotted time.
So as well as my hand-eye coordination being rather poor, I also cannot ride a bike.
My brothers, in the way that boys seemed to do, taught themselves to ride by getting on a friend’s bike and shoving off down a hill. They tried that tactic with me and I went into a wall. so not good. I was given though, my lovely pale-blue tricycle.
How I loved it. I would pack all my dolls into it’s shiny blue boot and head off round the roads and back again until one brother took it to the top of the infamous hill to see what would happen. He nimbly jumped off, leaving the bike and the dolls to hit the same wall. It was never the same and I don’t remember ever riding it again (or him being told off.)
I have always felt rather pathetic at not being able to ride, envious of people’s carefree pedalling and tales of heading down to the beach with a bottle of chilled wine in the cute basket at the front. I so desperately wanted it to be me.
When I was 39, a well-meaning friend decided enough was enough, I would learn to ride before turning 40 and took me to the local park to just “man up”. Everyone in their cars who were enjoying a picnic and thermos whilst staring at the sea only yards away but outside so that was a no-go, suddenly all sat up and took notice, watching as I wibbled and wobbled across the grass. As soon as my feet touched the pedals, over I would go.
Eventually, my friend stopped running and shouting and took to gazing at the sky, hoping that might help. It didn’t.
The next time was 14 years later when I was feeling more determined than ever. Different friend, bike and park but still a no-go. I fell over, possibly broke my finger and had most of the park laughing and pointing, as well as dogs snapping at my pedals.
Imagine then, a spin class.
My first time, I whispered to the instructor that I couldn’t ride a bike and he was very kind and told me how to stay on the damn thing and then..WE STOOD UP. I managed one revolution before I had to sit down, thinking, “this ain’t happening!”
Now a year later, I plug in and adjust with all the aplomb of a Tour de France regular. I fly along, sweating and swearing, huffing and puffing, whirling round imaginary corners and heaving up enormous hills. One eye on the clock, 45 mins, you can do this.
Suddenly, it’s all over. You’re done. Sore bum- I am actually quite good at standing up now, just to get the blood flowing back into the old posterior, chest heaving. What a sense of achievement.
And you know what? I don’t mind quite so much that I can’t ride a bike. I sure as hell can give a bolted-to-the-floor one a good workout. Maybe I’ve made peace with lacking that one life-skill. Nobody’s perfect.