By Katherine Lam, Senior writer, 18, Ramona Convent (2007 graduate)
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Katherine knows it’s odd that she learned to drive before she learned how to ride a bike.

While touring Stanford last year, one of the first things I noticed was that the campus was humongous and most students were riding bikes. Then my tour guide confirmed my fear—most of the students owned bikes. I panicked. I didn’t know how to ride a bike. I didn’t know how to operate one of the means of transportation at a major university. It was time to re-evaluate my life.

When other kids were learning to ride bikes, I missed out. It wasn’t a big deal. My sister and I didn’t play with kids outside since my mom thought it was “too dangerous.” My parents never rode bikes (as well as I can remember); my mom only talked about bikes in the context of going to and from school when she lived in Taiwan. But since my parents always drove my sister and me everywhere, who needed bikes?

If my sister and I wanted to burn off energy, we would whip out our snazzy inline skates and coast around our concrete backyard. And when my friends and I hung out in elementary school, we played Neopets and then walked to the park to play tennis.

As I got older, I tried learning to ride a bike a couple times. My way of learning, however, was dragging my cousin’s rusty bike with an almost-flat tire out of our garage, sitting on it and attempting to ride around my backyard. I didn’t think to ask my parents for help or to inflate the tire. All I could feel was the bike teetering and tottering from side to side because I couldn’t balance.

Every couple months I’d have 10 seconds of glory—actually traveling more than 10 feet in my backyard. But all my dreams of riding a bike were shattered when I got going and felt myself traveling at the speed of light. Since I wasn’t sure how to stop, I would shift my body weight to one side and put my foot down before I hit a trash can.

I was scared of crashing

Illustration by Rachel Chung, 17, University HS

The closest I had ever come to riding a bike was at a family gathering in middle school. I saw a bike and exclaimed that I couldn’t ride one so my cousin Lisa tried to teach me. She held onto the handlebar to steer me for the first couple feet, but as soon as she let go, I would panic and lose my balance. I didn’t have the guts to keep riding after that. I envisioned falling in the street, getting a concussion or cracking my head open. After that, I came to the conclusion that there are special bike-riding powers that are only accessible from ages 5 to 10.

It wasn’t until high school that I started noticing my friends’ shocked responses when I told them that I didn’t know how to ride a bike. At first, I figured they were just overreacting. However, as I started talking to more people about my inability to ride a bike, I noticed that they all wondered what had gone so terribly wrong in my childhood. I was confused and brushed off those reactions because it still had not clicked in my mind that bike riding was something as common as learning to read. My sister, Mabel, was also getting similar reactions. We both wondered why neither of us had ever learned how to ride a bike.

Last year, my English class went off on a tangent about bike riding. Some classmates and I yelled out, “We don’t know how to ride bikes!” My teacher was surprised that we had never learned and others laughed. I was amused to see their reactions. Why was it such a big deal? Biking was not a matter of life or death. Finally figuring out that not knowing how to ride a bike was atypical, I went to search for non-bike-riding buddies on Facebook, an online networking site. There was a group dedicated to people who had never learned to ride a bike—finally a group related to biking that I could belong to!

This past summer, my mother pestered me to give it one more try. I rode a couple inches until I realized something was wrong. It turned out that all the bikes in the garage, which were collected from my cousin and old garage sales, had flat tires.

The next day, I was more determined. After my dad managed to fix one of the bikes, I hopped on. For some reason my brain told my hands to twist the bike at weird angles to avoid falling when I lost my balance, which, at first, happened every few seconds. Since the bike was too high, I had to practically jump off to one side to stop and catch myself each time. Of course, any experienced bike rider would know that balancing a bike takes smooth turns and not jerky moves, which my hands seemed to enjoy doing.

This time I didn’t give up so quickly. As I shed the nervousness and stopped making jerky moves, I was able to ride the bike more than a couple feet without falling! After 15 more minutes of coasting around my backyard, I’m proud to say that on July 27, I finally learned how to ride a bike! 

Now that I’m at college, I’m glad to have the choice of whether to get a bike. Most students say that I don’t need a bike but I’ll probably get one because it’ll be easier to get around. And hey, I’m a true Angeleno at heart—why would I want to walk more than a block if there is an easier mode of transportation available?

Other stories by this writer …

Is Harvard right for me? Katherine, 17, learned that other colleges, besides Harvard and the biggest names, have plenty to offer students. (November – December 2006)

Halloween tricks and treats. Katherine, 17, was mesmerized by a Pottery Barn Halloween tree. (October 2006)

Crash and burn. To try and figure out why so many of her friends were obsessed, Katherine, 17, tried her hand at video games (and failed miserably). (March – April 2006)

Girl Scout’s honor. It’s not just about cookies. Katherine, 16, says Girl Scouts is about friendship and helping others. March – April 2005)

I gave my rooom a quake-over. To make it safer in the event of an earthquake, Katherine, 15, worked with a safety consultant to make her room safer. (October 2004)