We warm up with our trusty scooter friends. My body seems to be doing things without my brain switching on. Zoooom! They are still dirty from our last muddy escapades and I can’t help feeling a bit badass.
Our instructor calls us over to the shed and says to get a bike. It sounds like the most matter-of-fact request in the world and my mind manages to stay blissfully blank, a state that’s carried me very nicely through the last lessons. Some of the participants are sceptical about the smaller and lower bikes we’re supposed to take. “Everyone gets a low one first and we practice. You may get a bigger one later, it’s better for tall women”, she looks at me, “Like you.” Noted. I’m relieved about the smaller bikes, because at this point the prospect of mounting a big one feels akin to climbing a very tall tree.
We practice standing next to the bikes and balancing with one foot on the pedal. The difference to the scooters is immediately felt – we’re all wobbling around and getting used to the shift in height. Maybe it’s like moving from a pony to a horse, though I’ve only ridden at fairs, so I can’t compare. We transfer most of the exercises from last week with the scooters to the bike. This also needs some getting used to. Plus, we’re forbidden to sit down on the saddle, when it’s so temptingly close. My instructor reminds me of the first very basic rule about lightly tipping your bike towards you before you put your foot on a pedal, and I immediately realize what she meant about every one of our previous exercises being important.
My pedals only seem to be in the way at first and within minutes my jeans are dirty again. I can also tell exactly where I will have bruises later on. The instructor checks that I’m not doing anything wrong and loosens the left pedal so that it hangs sideways. She also suggests placing my left leg a bit further away from the bike. After that I do better. I feel quite clumsy, but gradually the old joy of picking up speed returns, though coordinating my feet around the new position is challenging.
We push the bikes around, following a line or attempting to. The old favourite with making snake lines around coloured circles on the ground returns, both with a foot on the bike and off. From what I can tell my snake is either drunk or very old, but at least it’s definitely a snake. We also take off, trying to repeat the exercise of “writing” with your left foot in the air, and this time I am actually able to make a V. We stop for two breaks in-between and the conversation actually turns to bikes. The two ladies I’ve been avoiding converge on the girl I’m chatting to and start asking her about her earrings. What’s more, they actually grab her earlobes without asking. She says it’s OK, but this freaks me out slightly and I take care to continue with my avoidance tactics, since I need my ears to hear what our instructor is saying.
I push off and extend my left leg for a bit, holding the position. “Great,” says the instructor, “Now do it again a couple of times, but extend your leg behind you.” I speed up repeatedly and go all prima ballerina on the bike. “Fantastic!” shouts my instructor. I’ve achieved the “fantastic” level! I’m the teacher’s pet! I’m unstoppable! I’m… falling…
I lost my balance slightly, my bike started to tip, and I basically side-squatted with it, still somehow getting my feet off in time and folding myself on the ground. Falls should be mastered too. No bruises or scratches, so I dust myself off and continue.
The next exercise needs to be practiced until we have it down pat. We’re supposed to speed up and bend the left leg on the level of the left pedal. I did this several times, though it felt like I was holding up my leg for very short intervals. I stop for a minute, when my instructor comes up and says, “You can cycle now.”
She readjusts my left pedal and shows me the different gears. I’m told to go, and I do. What happens next is completely unexpected and surreal. One moment I’m gathering speed, raising and bending my left leg and putting my left foot down on the pedal.
And the next I’m cycling. I’m cycling around the football field and I’m not tipping to the side or wobbling. I. Am. Cycling.