How to take up cycling at 50 – even if you haven’t been on a bike for years

If you’d like to learn to cycle, for fitness or for fun, it’s easier than you think. Turning 50 made Xenia Taliotis have her first lesson– and no, you don’t have to wear Lycra!

New Year’s Day 2015 and I open my new diary, flick through to 27 August (my 50th birthday) and make a few resolutions: 50 to be precise. Yep, that’s right: I have 50 things I want to do before I hit 50.

Some of these are unrealistic but not impossible (move; get a staff job); some are ridiculous (learn to skateboard and dive); and some are just plain doolally (get me a baby – as Edwina said, in Raising Arizona).

But the months fly by and before I know it, it’s mid-April and I haven’t done a thing about any of them. So I look at my list again and circle the one thing I think is possible, useful and not too demanding of time: learn to ride a bicycle.

It’s like… riding a bike

Wanting to cycle is something I’ve thought about for years – decades, even – but have never found the necessary gumption to find out how. As with so many other things in life, I’ve built up a wall of excuses. I don’t have the space for a bike so what’s the point of learning? I’ve no one to teach me. I’d be too scared to cycle in London, and so on…

But as I approach my big birthday, another stronger voice makes itself heard, dismissing each objection the dodger in me raises with a resounding “so what?”.

Granted it isn’t the most eloquent or compelling retort but it does the trick. It gets me Googling cycling lessons for adults, me emailing my borough for information and to the local park a week later to meet my instructor Will.

Enfield, like so many other places throughout the UK, offers a couple of hours of free tuition to people who live, work or study in the area.

The first thing I notice about Will is that he arrives riding the bike – something out of Toy Town on account of me being five feet nothing – standing up.

Fitness. Learn to cycle. Bicycle Photo from Stocksy 620x349
No Lycra required! Photo from Stocksy
My first bike lesson

When I sit down, I realise why – my bottom’s in for a rough ride, on a saddle built for a ten-year-old. That aside, I am grateful that it doesn’t come with stabilisers – as my friends had hoped.

And we’re off, wobbling one way, wibbling the other. Will is holding the bars tightly and telling me to pedal, pedal, pedal, taking his hands off the bars for a few seconds at a time, until suddenly I’m doing it. I’m actually cycling. Not for long, and not with any grace, but cycling nonetheless.

Until, of course, my brain processes this realisation and starts to think about what I’m doing and about Will’s instruction to lean toward the direction I’m hoping to go in. Thinking stops me in my tracks, but I do find that I’m good at leaning.

So good that I’m soon doing it on the ground. Which leads me to discovering the next thing I’m good at: leaping off when I’m done with leaning.

For reasons Will can’t fathom, the simple action of braking and putting my feet on the ground is something I can’t manage, yet I can throw myself off the bike before I fall.

We carry on for a while longer but I’m not getting it. Nor am I getting the hang of being able to set off on my own, so Will calls it a day. I would have continued as I feel I’m just on the cusp of cracking it, but we arrange another lesson and leave it for now.

Shopping for a bike_Xenia_620x349
Novice cyclist Xenia browses the huge range of bicycles available to buy

Lesson two begins in much the same way as lesson one. I’m still overthinking the simple action of balancing and pedalling so Will tells me to distract myself by giving my brain something else to think about. I start singing.

Poor Will; as if he doesn’t have enough to deal with with lugging me and the bike around the tennis courts, he now has to put up with badly sung Paul Weller songs. But singing does the trick.

I’m off. I go once, twice around the tennis court… and then I fall. Once, twice, and then I fall. But, I get up again, again and again.

My hour runs out before I get beyond this pattern. However, I do know I can do it. Nothing can stop me now. Well, apart from thinking about it, that is.

And that’s it. That’s how simple it is to get going. Now, I regularly pootle around the neighbourhood doing my shopping.

I thought I was going to write that I’ll never be a Lycra-clad enthusiast on a several-thousand-pound bike, but cycling is addictive. Next step is the park and going on longer cycle rides just for the pleasure of cycling.

After that, I am looking forward to the day when I want to cycle just for the exercise, the fitness benefits, the challenge of it all; going further than yesterday, not as far as tomorrow. I am hooked.