Learning to ride: Joining the Street Riders

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This is the third post of three outtakes from Volume 8 of the quarterly Taking the Lane series, Childhood. (Read the first one here and the second one here). This story is by Brigette Brown.

Sweat drips down my forehead, tears of exasperation well up in my eyes. I struggle under the hot afternoon sun. Rays of light beat down on as if I were under a spotlight in a grand theater.

Grunt. Struggle. Fall.

Grass, rocks and dirt move aside as my wheels struggle to find a steady, fluid rotation beneath me. I grunt, as I attempt to pedal without falling over. The bike leans to the right, my foot lands on the ground.

My eight-year-old twin sister — who learned to ride a bike three years ago — rides in circles around me, complaining about having to stay in the backyard. It’s my fault.

You can do this. Riding a bike is fun… and easy. It’s a mantra I repeat over and over to myself.

I take a deep breath and try again. The bike leans to the left. There’s no time to put my foot down. A bush swallows me up as it protects me from the ground, enveloping me in the biggest, most encouraging hug a bush could possibly give. Get up and ride that bike, the bush seems to say.

I swing my leg over the black seat of my built-from-parts sparkly pink and purple bike. Tentatively, I place my hands on the black handlebars adorned with pink and white tassels. Deep breath. My right foot rests lightly on the pedal, my left remains on the ground as I mentally recover from the fall. Deep breath.

On the count of three. One… two… three.

With a strong downward push from my right foot, my left takes its place on the pedal. One unsteady revolution, and the handlebars shake. Two revolutions, and the bike tilts to the right. Three revolutions, rock. My feet quickly find their comfort zone, the safety net that is the soft, grassy earth.

I did it! I can ride a bike! I cheer in my head.

I run into the house, march up to my mom (who’s reading a book on the couch in the living room) and tell her what just happened. I look at my sister for confirmation. She nods.

With certainty, I say it: I’m ready to ride on the street.

My mom smiles.

Okay, she says, but stay on our block and take your sister with you.

Just like that, I am finally inducted into the group of kids I had enviously dubbed, “The Street Riders” — four members strong. I grab my helmet and kneepads and walk my bike from the backyard to the front. Grinning, I half-run to the neighbor’s house to ask if they want to ride bikes with me.

Obviously excited to get out and play, Darlene — a nine-year-old girl I try to emulate — says, “Yes!” with a huge smile on her face. She runs around back to get her blue and green mountain bike. We both know we can’t leave our block and can only ride back in forth on our street and do circles on our cul-de-sac. Newly liberated from the backyard, I don’t care.

I sit on the seat of my bike, feet planted firmly on the ground as I watch my sister and Darlene ride. They’re happy. I’m happy. I place my feet on the pedals and ride the six feet to where they sit talking.

Joy. Accomplishment. Fear. Confidence.

I join the group of kids on my block as a novice rider, eager to impress. Being seen on my bike on the street is enough to make a statement.

After a few minutes a couple more of The Street Riders came out and joined us. They all look so surprised to see me.

Of course, I act as though it’s not a big deal. I can ride with you guys now!

I said it to convince them and myself.

Except, I still couldn’t really ride like the rest of them. I didn’t have the balance to make it down the street without touching my feet to the ground.

But, I wanted to. And eventually, I did.

Brigette Brown is a graduate student working on her MFA in Design Criticism at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She has written for Surface Magazine and is currently working on articles for both Metropolis Magazine and Domus.