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“I was paranoid when I got here,” she said. “Now I can ride a bicycle! These guys were awesome!”
Shrestha, a nurse born in Nepal, said that when she was 8, she had had a bad fall on a bicycle that left a scar on her knee. She tried halfheartedly to learn to ride again when she was 10, but hadn’t tried since. Knowing that she wanted to ride a bicycle but was scared, her husband, Chris, brought her to Bike New York’s free class.
Several of the adult beginners who, that day, ranged in age from their early 20s to their late 60s, said they were scared. The Bike New York instructors were encouraging and supportive. They insisted that anyone can learn to ride a bicycle — maybe not in two hours or on the first try, but eventually. With bike paths proliferating in New York City and with a bike-sharing program about to start in July, more and more people want to try.
Bike New York, a nonprofit organization, is an outgrowth of a bike race that took place in 1977 called the Five Borough Bike Challenge. Today, Bike New York runs the Five Boro Bike Tour with 32,000 riders.
“It’s the largest bike tour in the nation,” said Brent Tongco, Bike New York’s communications director. “It takes riders over 40 miles of closed streets in all five boroughs of New York City.”
The income from that event supports the free learn-to-ride-a-bicycle classes. Last year, Bike New York taught roughly 6,000 people. It has 12 full-time employees, 20 to 25 part-time instructors who teach weekend classes and another 20 instructors of college age who teach summer and after-school programs to young people.
About one-third of the instructors are credentialed by the prestigious League of American Bicyclists. All are also trained by Bike New York’s senior staff.
For the “Learn to Ride” class, the instructors take the pedals off the bikes and have their students push off and glide so they learn how to balance on a bicycle. Then they put the pedals back on and tell the students to push off, look ahead and find the rotating pedals with their feet. This proved to be difficult for some. Several were taking the class for the
second time because they hadn’t learned to pedal. Others picked up the skill
Bike New York’s next suggested class is called “Bicycling Basics.” This is for people who know the fundamentals of how to ride a bike but need more experience. “Bicycling Basics” covers how to fit a helmet, how to signal, start and stop and how to turn corners and scan the road. It is designed to build confidence in beginner riders.
Simona Bares-Lemmon, a “Bicycling Basics” instructor, had the class ride in circles around Pier 54, stopping with one hand brake at a time to see how that felt. She demonstrated the “power position” for starting from a standstill, with one pedal at the zenith of its range. Then she had the students take one hand off the handlebar while riding, and count to three.
“You don’t have to take your hand far,” she said. “By the time you’re done, you’re going to high-five me!” She was right. After a few tries, most of the people in the class did manage to connect with her outstretched hand as they sailed by.
Rich Conroy, Bike New York’s education director, said that the “Learn to Ride” class for adults is in its fourth year.
“We have expanded it almost every year,” he said. “There’s always a long
Bike New York teaches a similar class for kids, ages 5 and up.
Most Bike New York classes start in April and end in September, although some are offered throughout the winter. Topics include traffic skills, bike commuting, bike maintenance, street skills and how to buy a bike.
There are no more than 20 people in a class, and some are much smaller than that.
“We want to make sure that the instructors can help everyone,” said Tongco.
Pier 54 is an excellent place both to teach and to practice. The surface is somewhat pitted and uneven, much like New York City’s streets, but of course, without traffic. The pier is under the jurisdiction of the Hudson River Park Trust, which keeps it open for practice biking. The Bike New York staff encourages students to return to practice the skills they learned in class.
“How will I get my bicycle over here?” one student wondered. She said she would have to bring it in her car, park the car a few blocks away, and walk the bicycle
to the pier.
“We don’t teach you to ride a bicycle,” said Conroy. “We show you a few things and then you teach yourself. It’s all about practice.”
For a complete list of Bike New York’s classes, go to http://www.bikenewyork.org/# .