Learning To ride a Bicycle As An Adult

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For reasons that are a whole other story I never leant to ride a bicycle as a child. It never really bothered me back then, and as a young adult didn’t worry me much either. I had my car license as soon as I could at 17, so who needs to ride when you can drive.

Then as we started travelling a few instances popped up where the recommended ways to see things were by bicycle.

Here’s my summary learning to ride as an adult. I still class myself as learning but I’m a hell of a lot better than I was at the beginning of the year

First time was many years ago when we went to Darwin. Here we decided the best way to get around the issues was to ride a tandem. Here we learnt a few lessons.

Me:  #1There’s these things called gears and if you’re not expecting it, changing down flings your feet off the pedals and it’s hard to get them back on.

#2 There’s some muscles in your stomach that you use when holding onto bike handlebars. I didn’t have these and could only sit at that angle for about 5 mins before I had to get off.

John: Never ride a tandam with me.

Second time we were heading to Xian and it was supposed to be nice to ride around the top of the wall. So we borrowed a bike and took it for a spin round the park. After 10 mins I was done and couldn’t walk properly for a week.

Lesson for me: I don’t have a bike bum!

3rd time lucky: We’re looking at Easter Island trip and a new places it says are good on bike. It’s 12 months away…should be easy.

What I did different this time:


Step 1. Started on a trainer – we bought a trainer and we put John’s mountain bike (not pictured) on it. He had fancy cleats so I had to use his shoes. I spent every night for a week giving it a go. It was still extremely painful on my rear end with his very small and hard men’s seat and it was dead boring!

After a week, we bought a squish ladies seat and I stole his old bike pants and set up the spare tv so I could watch an episode of something while I was on the bike.

Only after I could sit and peddle constantly for 30 mins did we move onto step 2. This took me a couple of weeks till it didn’t hurt to sit, hold the handlebars for an Episode of House.

Step 2. Proper bike and lots of room. While John’s bike was great to make sure I would get to the end of step one without giving up, it’s way too big for me. So we bought a light, relatively cheap hybrid.

As an adult I have all the knowledge of what happens when you fall off a bike so a lot of my problem is fear. A lot of people said it was like driving a car, but I disagree.

When driving you usually learn: start/stop, steering then gears. Here you have to learn most of it in one go. I guess most kids start with training wheels and can start with steering etc. from an early age and falling over back them seemed to cause way less damage.


Then we found the Murrarie Criterion. It is a big circle, very flat and 6 metres wide. Getting moving without stopping straight away was tough at first. While we’d set my seat to the “correct height” it was too tall for me to lift of and keep my balance, steering enough without stopping again. After a few heated discussions we dropped the seat about and inch and it made the world of difference.

We’d dusted off John’s road bike that’d been sitting in the house for at least 10 years gathering cob webs and the tyres didn’t even explode when we pumped them up (though they made some really freaky sounds). So off we went. I was set to an average gear and off we went with John behind me. I was stopping about every 1/2 lap (600m) with sore hands but after 2 laps what a difference it made. I was still pretty useless but had progressed. I was still freaked out by people anywhere near me and almost crashed into the one other person on the track. I was lucky they were clearly understanding of my suckiness. John quickly discovered his gears were a bit broken and was stuck in one gear, which is fine cause I’m so slow.

We went back the next week and introduced gears. I’d gotten a bit faster and could deal with going up and down. My hands were still getting really sore and was stopping about once a lap. I could now start and stop and go round in a circle without freaking out too much.

While looking at Cambodia – I spot a cool looking bicycle tour and we book it. So now I have 8 weeks to be able to ride 25k. Nothing like a deadline for motivation.

Teaching @bronwenz how to ride a bike, she is picking it up fast :)

Step 3 – Cornering

Before I had any chance of getting on a bike path, I needed to be able to turn. The criterion wasn’t good for this as it was a one way circle. So we left the safe confines and went to a local park and ride on a later afternoon on a weekend. Here I did a few laps of the car park turning in circles and practicing stopping in a hurry until my hands hurt too much. During this time I’m still on the trainer and building up how long I can sit there. I can easily watch a few episode of a series but here I don’t get sore hands.

Step 4 – Short bike path and gloves

I’ve found a flat bike path near home and off we go to try out my new skills. We go a few k’s slowly before my hands get sore, so back to the car with lots of stops. Sore hands affect my ability to change gears, so I generally start setting this to really easy and my ability to use the brake – this is much more important so I am aware of needing to turn back.

We do this a few times and I’m starting to be able to go a bit further with a maximum so far of about 6k. Someone else suggests getting some gloves to help with my sore hands.

I’ve built up a bit of confidence now so I venture out on my first solo ride on the bike path with my new gloves. I don’t think I’d have the strength to change a flat and hand pump to the right psi so I just go with my phone and enough money to call a maxi taxi home. I take it easy and want to see how far I can go. I make it all the way to one end and back. 16k – that’s the farthest I’ve gone now. There’s one nasty little hill I’m having trouble with, but I know the Cambodia trip is mostly flat, I want to get my distance up.

Step 5- Going the distance

I enlist anyone who will listen to go on a ride or two with me. I get put onto Strava to help me track my progress.


We go for our first “big” ride when I find a bike path long enough and flat enough for my liking. 32.4k – that’s further than I’ll need in Cambodia. I’m feeling good. We keep riding as much as possible over the next few weeks leading up to our trip.

Step 6 – Achievement Unlocked

Feeling prepped we do go on our bike trip. There were a few dramas (you can read about it here). Riding a mountain bike on really soft sand in the heat is really hard work. I’m glad to get back to ride my little hybrid.


Next Steps

So next up is Easter Island and Buenos Aires. Easter Island is going to be hilly, windy and rough roads. Buenos Aires is a bit unknown. It looks like they have a great bike network. So after a lazy winter and many weekends of torrential rain we’re back on the bikes. I’ve got 5 weeks to go to get a lot better at:

1. Hills – I may have to claim defeat on this one. I’m getting better slowly. I still haven’t go to the point of being able to stand up to help me up the hills.

2. Road riding – Cars are still scary. I can do super quiet roads by myself now. I can do normal roads with cars if someone is with me who will ride behind me and talk me through it so I don’t completely freak out. I still can’t do really busy roads or intersections involving filtering in traffic. Crossing roads is still challenging for me. I need a much bigger gap than most other people.

I have found Strava really good for seeing if I’m getting any better. There’s some hills I get up now without stopping that I couldn’t do before and I can see I’m getting faster overall.

Bike Paths

bike network

This is a great summary of Brisbane’s bike network at the moment. For me who doesn’t like cars it’s a disjointed mess. There’s quite a few nice bits of path that just stop.

There’s lots of little paths, like one across the park that goes to nowhere.

This really limits my enjoyment and learning ability without getting on roads. The idea is there but it isn’t well executed. Many of the “bike ways” are more like footpaths which also make it really hard when there’s pedestrians on the path also. They aren’t really wide enough to have a pram and a bike at the same time.

My top bike paths.

1. Kedron Brook Bikeway – Goes from Nudgee Road to Mitchelton on bike paths. It’s fairly flat and there’s 2 road crossings that are fairly bike friendly. A lot of the busiest sections are divided into separate paths for bikes and pedestrians.

2.   Veloway1 – Goes from CBD to Holland Park  – It’s pretty hilly in places and there’s 2 nasty crossings on O’Keefe Street. One to cross and one to cross the busway. It’d be nice if the Holland Park end joined up to something else more useful like Logan Road. Getting onto the Velloway from the south is nasty with cyclists having to cross multiple lanes of traffic getting on the freeway. Really crying out for a little overpass.

Alternatively you can also go from CBD out to UQ, across the new Bus Bridge, past the PA and back on to the Veloway if you want a more interesting loop. Few roads and hills going out to UQ though.