Travel tales: When I realized too late that I never learned how to ride a bike

You know the old saying, “It’s just like riding a bike”?

Well, whoever thought of that saying never considered those who apparently forgot to learn how to ride a bike.

Of course, I must have, at some point. I have a pretty clear memory from my childhood of my sister guiding me on my pink bike down the sidewalk in front of our house.

But I also have clear memories of me playing the border guard when my three older siblings would “cross the border” on their bikes in our driveway. I was the one who checked their tires and asked them questions. I was never the one on the bike.

And I never really gave this much thought until I moved to Germany for five months, specifically to the city of Münster, also known as the bicycle capital of Germany.

I was eager to fit in with the locals on my süper cool bike and basket. I was so ready to fill that basket with bread and cycle my way around the Aasee (the lake in Münster), smiling at the Germans who didn’t smile back.

german bike

But the ride home from the bike seller’s felt treacherous. Like I was on the back of an out-of-control animal that could, at any moment, lead me to my demise. And then my friend and I rode down to the grocery store to pick up some stuff. My basket was loaded with a big thing of toilet paper and a dozen eggs, among other things. As we rode up to the front of our apartment complex, I hit the brakes and felt myself going over.

Before I continue, I should explain that these bikes are not bikes where you can touch the ground while you’re on the seat. People in Europe seem to have evolved to a kind of cycling that doesn’t require you to put your feet down. Instead they’ve mastered the art of standing on the pedals and lowering themselves onto the ground should they need to stop.

I was not evolved.

And I toppled like a top-heavy statue. I didn’t move to stop myself, I didn’t reach my leg out, I didn’t do anything. I went stiff as a board and fell over.

Thankfully, the toilet paper saved the eggs. And a German completely clad in denim came running across the street to help me and my red face up.

I told myself I wouldn’t let this bike get the best of me, so I tried again. My friends even helped me start and stop on the Promenade (a bike pathway that goes around the city). And then I was cycling to class and managed to topple, again, this time right in front of a bunch of stopped traffic with my unhelmeted head (because no one wears helmets there) hanging off the curb a little too close to the static cars that were judging me.

So I parked that bike that cost me 60€. Waited a few months. And then sold it to an Estonian student for 80€.

Made a profit and didn’t die!

Success.

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