Encouragement can be a powerful force in one’s learning experience, increasing self-confidence and willingness to step out of the proverbial oh-so-comfortable zone. While adults bring a wealth of life skills and experience to a learning opportunity (evidence they are quite capable of learning something new), learning can still be a scary proposition. Self-doubt and anxieties of various sorts can wreak havoc in the mind of even the most determined learner. Will I look foolish? What if I make a mistake? Can I keep up with the others? … We think and re-think all that could go wrong and possibly lead to an embarrassing and unpleasant outcome.
One great source of encouragement comes from others who have mastered the desired skill, even when that someone is merely a few steps ahead. Most experienced cyclists can remember what it felt like to start biking and what helped them develop into a more confident rider. So as we launch the 2014 Ride Like A Girl bicycling season, I want to share some words of encouragement from “the ranks” – Fellow “BoB’ers” (Portland men and women from the NW Butts on Bikes Meetup group) and RLAG girlfriends (women who participated last year in Ride Like A Girl).
I asked this community of experts the following question: “If you knew a woman who was going to take up biking after not riding for the last 5-10 years, what encouragement/advice/ tips would you give her?” Here are some of those responses:
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right”: Vest H. reminds us of this quote from Henry Ford and then adds, “[Cycling] beats the hell out of going to a walled-in gym.”
Start with short distances: “From someone who had not been on a bike for … 30-ish [years], start out slowly. … I loved the feeling of freedom it gave me and brought back great childhood memories. I rode short distances, but gradually increased as I became more confident. …Going to spin classes helped me build up my muscles and endurance.” – Karen W.
Give it time: “I found a group of people who only want to promote cycling and wanted new riders to join in no matter what the ability of the new rider was. I found the only thing holding me back was me. We all improve with time and miles.” – Paul B.
Silence the voices and just pedal: “I used to ride alone … but riding with others has given me reassurance that I won’t be left [behind] and that I’ll be challenged. … tell the voices in your head to be quiet because you have to pay attention to the road and you just pedal – low and behold, you’re not that slow.” – Diana K.
Never too late: “[A woman] took up bicycling at the age of 68 because she lost a friend to AIDS and wanted to ride the AIDS lifecycle [biking event] from L.A. to San Francisco. She completed the event and has also done two Cycle Oregons.” – Adam B.
Have fun: “Take it easy and have fun, because that’s what it’s all about.” – Jake H.
Go slow, practice, learn all you can: “I started out riding with a supportive group of friends, so there was little or no pressure … and took a class on fixing flats… These things helped me ease into it and slowly build confidence. I made it a point to ride regularly, sometimes by myself, to slowly increase my distance and build endurance.” Trudy H. also offers these additional tips:
- Don’t get discouraged when things seem hard at first, because they will get easier, with persistence
- Be prepared … cell phone, pump, extra tubes, water, energy foods, etc.
- Don’t push yourself too hard … try to find your “sweet spot” (pace), even if it’s slow. It will get faster over time. (My secret strategy is to back off 10%, and it feels so much more manageable.)
- Read blogs … (she recommends Ride Like A Girl Portland and Terry Peloton)
Find a supportive group: “…I was totally out of my comfort zone when I started … . I remember thinking: What am I doing? I am nuts! I can’t do this! But the fears in my mind were [far] from reality. I love cycling now and being apart of a supportive group has made all the difference in the world! ” Linda G. also suggests:
- Take small steps … do not look at the larger picture (i.e., riding distances, speed, hills, etc.) as that can be overwhelming and intimitading.
- Get to know the [other women] and practice together outside of the group. … I remember meeting up with [new girlfriends] and the only thing we did was practice starting, stopping, and shifting as we circled the track course numerous times. Sounds silly yet we had fun learning together.
- The most important item … is have fun!
Get control of the Monkey: “My advice,” says Melanie W. “is to develop a positive reply (in advance) to what [your] monkey mind is going to say. For example…
- Monkey mind: “I won’t be able to keep up with everyone else”.
Positive reply: “So what? It’s not a competition. I’ll do my ride and others can do theirs”.
- Monkey mind: “My bike’s not new or fancy like everyone else’s”.
Positive reply: “It doesn’t have to be. It just has to be safe”.
- And finally, when the monkey mind starts to open its mouth once again
Reply: “Shut #&*#@ up! I’m doing this and I am going to improve and I’m going to have fun!””
That is a lot of advice, isn’t it? Perhaps you can narrow the list to one, two, or a few points that resonate with you. Then make a point to encourage yourself when you find those anxious feelings creeping up. So gather up your courage, get ready to learn, and take heart that there is a community of cyclists out there cheering you on. We know you can do it!