Illustration: Moya Garrison-Msingwana
I’m 33 years old. It’s a weird age, teetering between being in touch and stuck in my ways. And I know I’m not the only one standing at the intersection of Young Buck and Old Head. Every time something comes along, whether it’s slang or pop culture or a new tech platform, you confront the same question: Am I too old for this? That’s why I’m here — to work through these conundrums on your behalf, on a weekly basis. Together, hopefully, we can face some harsh truths about our own washed-ness.
I’ve spent the last few weeks putting my best foot forward to give you all some advice on how to live your most fruitful washed lives. I’ve aided you in your music listening, your slang use, and even how to play basketball. I consider this a free exchange of ideas, and a safe space. So I expect nothing but understanding and grace when I share the following fact about myself.
I don’t know how to ride a bike.
There. I’m assuming that you’re reading this with nothing but sincere interest and concern and no desire to belittle my predicament at all because the internet is full of nothing but kindness.
I haven’t really thought about my cyclelessness until, in response to news about the Belgian city of Ghent making its town center a car-free zone, people on Twitter began rhapsodizing about how lovely it would be to live in this city where they can ride their bikes freely.
Look, I love the environment; it’s one of my favorite things. But I was looking at the Ghent celebration of the car-less town with the DJ Akademiks face. I was hoping no one would ask my opinion of this greenhouse gas-free utopia and how much I’d like to ride bikes because I’d have to tell them the truth. (Okay, I’d lie. I’d lie the lie-est lie ever lied or say something about how bike-riding has racist roots. People just tend to believe me on things like this now without much fact-checking. I haven’t abused this power because with great racism comes too much damn real racism to deal with made-up racist shit. Sorry, where was I? Oh. Right. The embarrassing stuff.)
I wish I had some traumatic story as to why I never learned how to ride a bike—like I was riding a bike when I learned that Hulk Hogan joined the NWO or something. But nope. Nothing. In fact, there are pictures of me riding a bike — with training wheels, but still — when I was preschool-age. So the idea that you can’t forget how to ride a bike is a myth, like wrestling being real, or economic anxiety.
I know people who never learned to drive or swim, just like I know people who never studied a foreign language or a musical instrument. Yet, we think of the first two as personal or moral failings, when in reality they’re just like the other two: skills you didn’t pick up.
I say all of that to ask: Is it too late for me to learn? I mean, I haven’t really ever missed out on much. I can’t think of a time I’ve had to say “nah, you all go ahead” to a group of people hopping aboard their BMX bikes or fixies. Yet, I’ve always been told that riding a bike is one of those things every able-bodied person should know how to do. As a result, the only thing even kinda motivating me to learn is simply the embarrassment of not knowing.
Embarrassment is the wrong response; I get that. I really should embrace this challenge and the possibility it presents me to fail. Often our lives are full of failures that have dire consequences, so even the trivial things take on more significance — and the easiest way to avoid failure, to save face, is simply to not try. So maybe we should all welcome the challenges to fail at things we’ve all wanted to conquer, things that have simply passed us by.
I know people who never learned to drive or swim, just like I know people who never studied a foreign language or a musical instrument. Yet, we think of the first two as personal or moral failings, when in reality they’re just like the other two: skills you didn’t pick up. And just because addressing them feels vulnerable, especially at the wobbly early stages, is no reason not to do so. I should take the skinned knees as a sign of progress and see the victories in those moments when I wobble my way to the corner.
Except… nope. Not with these damn contraptions. Why the hell are we even still riding bikes anyway? Bikes were invented in the 19th century. Where are you going on that thing, to a haberdashery? It’s 2020. Why are you riding some damn thing that was built when slavery was around? We’re free now. Go ahead and ride your plantation scooters if you want, I’ll be over here continuing my fully rational and absolutely defensible protest.
I can’t even front: There’s a bike in my garage. And knowing I was going to write this, I considered finally trying to learn how to ride it. I even got on the bike. Then I felt the distinct sensation of gravity crashing up against my lack of coordination and I remembered a few things. First, I’m tall. And being tall means that when I fall, I fall. Things break around me, and in me. Also, I’m at that age where my injury reports sometimes read “DNP — got out of bed too fast,” so risking my well-being for the pursuit of journalism just wasn’t worth it.
Besides, it’s always been my understanding that the older people get, the harder it is to learn how to ride a bike. I tried to look this up for verification but then only found a bunch of articles about how “easy” it is to teach grown-ups how to ride bikes. “How to teach an adult how to ride a bike quickly and simply.” “How To Learn To Ride A Bike In One Day.” “Stop Being A Dipshit And Ride A Bike Already, Loser.” Thanks, internet.
So am I too old to learn how to ride a bike? Apparently not. Apparently able-bodied folks can just learn how to do it in five minutes like they do in rom-coms. Well, I’m not Jude Law, and this is going to take longer than a Kelly Clarkson song.
So when the utopia comes and our city centers are full of ramps and oxygen bars and Impossible Burger gardens and you’re in the middle of it riding your bikes—just remember me. Sing about me. For I will never be by your side riding those two-wheeled weapons of mass destruction.