It’s Never Too Late to Learn to Ride a Bike — Just Ask These Women

An instructor gives Sandra Mayen, originally from South Sudan, some pointers. Photo: David Sachs

The city has plenty of barriers that make biking an intimidating way to get around — speeding drivers, shoddy bike infrastructure. But for a group of nine women learning how to ride at Bicycle Colorado’s Bike School on Saturday, there are other obstacles they have to overcome first.

Some of the students are immigrants who grew up in countries where women simply didn’t ride. Others crashed as kids and got scared off. One thing they all have in common? Conquering the stigma of learning to ride a bike as an adult.

“Kids, they just haven’t gotten it yet,” said Jenna Berman, Bicycle Colorado’s education director. “With adults, their whole lives they’ve been afraid, so there’s some embarrassment and there’s some shame. It is so awesome to help them get past that and learn to do this amazing thing. To learn this as an adult is a courageous thing.”

Saturday’s class, which was solely for women, was Berman’s brainchild. She noticed that Bicycle Colorado’s adult classes attracted a lot of people who aren’t white and weren’t born in America. So she reached out to the African Community Center, a local organization that resettles refugees, to appeal to immigrants more intentionally. She did an interview with Telemundo, too, inviting Spanish-speaking students.

Women who were visibility shaking at the start of the two-hour lesson were smiling by the end, gliding on two wheels through a parking lot near the Cherry Creek Trail.

“The hardest part is finding the pedal,” said Suzana Deng. “It’s like looking for a light switch in a dark room.”

Deng, 47, is from South Sudan. Her brothers learned to ride before they were 10, but she didn’t have that chance. “Women basically don’t ride bikes there,” she said. “I just decided I want to learn how to ride a bike so I can go riding with my kids, workout, go shopping. There are a lot of things that I can do biking where I don’t need a car.”

Students get ready to take a ride on the Cherry Creek Trail for the first time. Photo: David Sachs

An empty parking lot is different than a hectic city street, but Berman hopes to start a “confidence cycling” class after this group learns the basics. That way, graduates can learn how to coexist with cars and bike for transportation as well as recreation.

“Once I learn, I’ll skip my car and I would take my bike to just do small [errands] like getting groceries or something like that,” said Pia Waghdhare, a 35-year-old from India who has lived in the states for two years. “Biking gives me the freedom, the sense of exhilaration that you’re out on your own and you have the control of what you do.”

Worried that she would forget what she learned Saturday, one student asked an instructor if she would have to start from scratch next time. “Nope,” the instructor said. “It’s like riding a bike.”

Visit Bicycle Colorado’s website for more information on bike classes. This class was free, but others cost a fee. The advocacy organization is hoping to offer scholarships, and is looking donors to help fund the program.