Narrated by Bridget, Written by Brenda
In the central region of Uganda, where I come from, folklore has it that falling with a bike while cycling is the KICK-START for mastering cycling skills.
Not sure about how true that is, but certainly, that was the sole reason for not attempting to learn how to ride a bicycle in my childhood.
And no, I am not risk-averse; my shy personality evaded acquiring the skill that I didn’t think would be quite useful in the later stages of my life.
Plus, it’s pretty evident from the personality pointer above that this is DEFINITELY not Brenda.
My name is Bridget, Brenda’s first best friend in high school (I needed to point this out lest she forgets), and I’m currently in Belgium for my studies.
I came here only to find CYCLING as the most convenient means of transport, so much so that my closest friends who are also my classmates, all had bicycles and literally rode their bikes EVERYWHERE – be it class, shops or even to parties
As they rode, I solitarily took buses and only unite with them at whichever place was supposed to be our destination.
Occasionally, they would empathetically choose to walk with me to these different destinations which consequently slowed us down.
By all means, my friends and I unanimously decided that I rent a bicycle and subsequently learn how to ride it.
I remember it being ONE necessary-but-tough decision to comprehend.
Learning to cycle was the Hobson’s choice and oh my goodness, pondering how I would get to be an adept cyclist seemed like A HUGE TEST, only stoics could endure.
I mean, I still had the idea that I would have to first fall with the bike before learning how to ride it!
It was hard processing the fact that all this was going to happen in a foreign country and a fully grown individual like myself would be seen in public FALLING WITH A BIKE! – Definition of utter EMBARRASSMENT.
My first attempt was during a return journey with two of my friends – Raquel and Pebri, from having dinner hosted at another friend’s place, at about 11 PM, when the sun had gone to sleep.
That, to me, was definitely a good time for practice as I was NOT ready to have an egg on my face if I fell during the bright light of day.
The biggest trigger for it though, was that in the following week, we had studio work in one of the HUGE villages in that province (studio work being fieldwork that involved: assessing a site and its landmarks; holding interviews and community planning)
Clearly, I needed to navigate the expanse of the village in question with a better means like a bicycle, not by “foot-subishi”, my INEFFICIENT ALTERNATIVE.
One of my friends, Pebri had come to the dinner with a bicycle.
When that night’s practice commenced, the two of them told me to climb the bike and start with learning “how to balance on a bike” as my first LESSON, as they held the back of the bike.
The thought of falling kept creeping in my mind, which I guess reflected in my lopsided position while on the bike’s seat, as Raquel and Pebri tried to keep me in a straight and plumb posture.
Maybe I was sitting upright – I really can’t tell, but this went on for an hour or so.
And obviously, I didn’t learn that night – but I learnt the basics and theories of what I was supposed to do eventhough I still found a hard time applying it.
When I went home that night, the thought of failing at my first attempt didn’t sit well with me as I pondered how I would do fieldwork with my cyclist teammates.
I needed to take the plunge and learn how to ride a bike.
That night, I remember having an irresistible urge to learn how to ride that I resorted to watching YouTube videos of how to quickly learn to ride a bicycle as a beginner
Just like my friends, YouTubers said the same stuff, but as you already know, “easier said than done.”
In the next couple of days, I had my friends Izzah and Yidneck tutor me, this time round during day but in a secluded place – I said falling in public is embarrassing, remember?
Did I mention that this was during winter?!
Imagine learning how to cycle in a very chilly snowy environment: it was a blend of watching my hands become painfully cold, my body getting chilled to the marrow, and pathways being very slippery from icy roads as a result of compacted snow.
All that was nothing – I guess, compared to how I urgently needed to grasp the skills in 3 DAYS!
The funny thing is that all this fear was just in my head.
My friends repeatedly told me that Belgians don’t mind; it is common for people to fall with their bikes while learning how to ride.
Whenever I saw myself almost falling off the bike during practice, I jumped off of it so quickly like my life depended on it, and arguably, it did.
And yes, this always happened abruptly and the bikes I used for practice suffered in the end (not to the degree of being faulty – thank GOODNESS but hey, I LOVE MY LIFE)
Obviously, at that stage, my skills were still sketchy even when my friends did their best to teach me; even when I gave it my ultimate best to learn
At some point, I got a Ugandan friend in Belgium to tutor me.
And not because my former tutors were bad, NO; I just didn’t want to exhaust my friends with my slow progress.
Fortunately, with this bud, the learning curve was a lot shallower compared to the initial lessons.
I like to attribute this to the fact that I got under her wing with some prior knowledge and a tad of experience.
The first skill I mastered was balancing on the bike while sloping down a hill, which I particularly did a plethora of times as there was unexplainable joy in doing it, plus the obvious: there is no effort required to do both balancing and pedalling on the bike; it was just CRUISINGGGGGG
The latter mastery gradually became part of my wealth of skills and in fact made easier by the generally-flat terrain of the area I stayed in
Once I learnt to put the theory in practice, it was super GRATIFYING to finally ride without wobbling; on top of cycling alone influencing Dopamine release.
The experience alone was super thrilling characterised by a short-lived – but – thrilling feeling of freedom
Meanwhile, this was at the early stages of it before I acquainted myself with the UNPLEASANT consequences that cycling comes with.
Yes, cycling is fun and games, but it can get a little bit ugly, which I wish I had known before I got smitten by it.
The setbacks I am talking about include sweating, muscle strain, let alone the tardiness – that I will precisely give an account of – that comes with cycling when compared to other vehicles.
Before I even go further, can I acknowledge how the infrastructure here is apt for cycling?!
That is, there are special lanes for cycling and no murrum, which I can’t forget to attribute to making my boggy journey an easier one to navigate.
Yes, public transport is in existence, but CYCLING is EVERYTHING here.
Going back to the story, I was meant to get a COVID jab and being a foreigner, the best obvious compass to follow for this era would be google maps.
Being the new enthusiastic cyclist I had become, my google-maps search went to the cycling route to follow and the duration I would use to reach my destination.
On comparing the cycling time to the bus duration from my starting point to the destination, the bike trek would last for about 27 minutes less than the bus.
Imagine the satisfaction in my mind, knowing I could choose to cycle and not take the bus
Little did I know that the feedback from GOOGLE MAPS was meant for experienced cyclists with a high level of endurance, especially on hills.
At that moment, I din’t have that 😥 and my journey possessed a hilly terrain plus hidden shortcuts somewhere in between whose wrath I felt while navigating the route.
I remember it being a dreadfully exhausting experience and my sweaty-self reached the destination some minutes later than the agreed time.
Fortunately, I still got my jab 😊
When I narrated my experience to my friends, they informed me that when Google maps says a place is 18 minutes away, then that meant it is quite far. On the other hand less than 10 minutes implies a reasonably short distance for cycling.
All in all, learning how to cycle has been an exhilarating odyssey for me.
Did I fall down during any of my practices?!
Fortunately, NO! 😊
And I think it was all in my head, which I am glad is not part of my belief system ANYMORE.
If you have any questions, share them in the comments section, Brenda and I will be happy to answer them 🤗