It was pink and red; red as the dying roses in Clark’s Rose Garden. I still remember the first bike I ever had. The bike was a baby pink, decorated in a Strawberry Shortcake motif, with the little TV character plastered all over the bike’s metal body. The tires were pearl white, with sparkling flares that sprouted out of the handlebars, and it beautifully gleamed as if it was a brilliant diamond.
That bike was the quintessence of a child growing up, the holy grail of budding independence. Even though it was my sister’s, I frugulously made plans to learn how to ride the bike as I patiently waited for it to fall into my eager hands. Then one day, it disappeared; and, with it, my hopes of freedom were flushed down the drain.
Growing up, I fervently believed I was the only speck of human existence who could not ride a bike. Everyone somehow managed to ride a bike besides me, but surprisingly, my estimations were farther than I thought.
According to a poll conducted by YouGov, an independent research company, six percent of adults never learned how to ride a bike. An astounding 51 percent of Americans have never even ridden a bike. For many, it may seem hopeless to ever master the American custom they never experienced in their juvenescence.
“Knowing how to bike was like missing a quintessential childhood skill,” said Los Angeles native Helen Seto. “It has always been something I’ve wanted to learn, but never had the chance as a kid. My parents worked around the clock and didn’t have time nor the resources to teach me.”
Both Seto and I joined two other adults for a beginner bike class held by a local organization called Cyclists Inciting Change thru Live Exchange, or simply CICLE.
CICLE is a nonprofit whose goal is to get people, both old and young, to ride bicycles.
“Our whole mission is to get people on a bike and ride the bike,” said CICLE’s executive director Vanessa Gray. “We don’t care what you wear or who you are; we just want people to learn how to ride a bike.”
And so I found myself here: In an empty parking lot down at Eagle Rock Plaza, underneath the hellish sun on Superbowl Sunday, learning how to ride a bike…as well as simultaneously planning my funeral procession.
Once a month, Gray teaches both an introductory bike class for those who’ve never ridden a bike before, as well as a bike handling class to sharpen the new skills of beginning cyclists. So on an especially hazy Sunday morn, I came to class armed with nothing more than my helmet and a clinging fear that I might not make it to school the next day.
The introductory class began with students getting comfortable with the bike. Taking baby steps, the class slowly progressed as students started to get comfortable with the bike little by little. Then, as Gray challenged us to become more adventurous with our balance as well as decreasing my chances of survival, I soon found myself gliding around Eagle Rock Plaza’s second floor parking lot, having the time of my life. For my classmates and myself, riding a bike for the first time released this feeling of liberation and independence; feelings we all had as kids.
“My sister told me about CICLE,” Seto said. “The biking class is wonderful and empowering for beginner riders. Vanessa builds confidence and is so encouraging. I became more comfortable on a bike after taking the classes, whereas before, I tried learning on my own and got easily discouraged.”
As classes like the ones offered by CICLE continue to grow, it stands as a living testament to the increasing number of people switching to the greener side of transportation.
“You’re always gonna be able to ride a bike,” Gray said. “We have problems with smog, especially in this city. Biking just makes the street more welcoming and safer if more people get out of their cars, biking around.”
Gray’s right. In the past decade, there have been numerous laws and events added that support the cyclist movement, especially in the state of California. City plans, like Metro’s Measure M plan to expand the city’s biking infrastructure into the coming years. The plan pledges to construct new biking routes that can make traveling all the way to Long Beach by bike possible. Metro will also give an annual $2 million to the City of Glendale for improving sidewalks, streets and bike lanes.
Meanwhile, many citywide events encourage people to ride their bikes. One such example is Ciclavia, one of the biggest bike festivals in which local streets are shut down so that hundreds of cyclists, scooterists and skateboarders can all enjoy moving around the streets without cars. It is a free events in which all Angelenos can come together to walk, bike, skate and have a blast out in the open streets in cities all across Los Angeles County.
There are even some good biking opportunities at Clark Magnet High School. After Clark’s opening in 1998, the Bike Club was soon founded by retired English teacher Carol Pettegrew. Clark’s bike team competes in mountain biking competitions in the SoCal League.
“Everyone should totally learn how to ride a bike,” said Clark sophomore and Bike Club member Allyson McCullagh. McCullagh said that beginner cyclists who join Bike Club eventually become better and better. “It just looks hard, but once you actually practice, it’s really fun,” McCullagh said.
But for those looking for a fresh start to a new year, learning how to bike is one lesson worth biking about. “Just sign up for the class and see why biking is really fun,” Gray said. “People are very supportive, [there is] a lot of camaraderie. Just try it and knock it off your bucket list. There’s no need to be fearful.”