A Goal Met before Age 50, and No Training Wheels!
On a recent Sunday morning, Bruce Mauro let his girlfriend and two daughters assume he was heading out for his usual routine of playing the organ at church. Instead, he was taking care of some unfinished childhood business: he was learning to ride a bike.
“It’s the first secret I ever kept from them,” said Mr. Mauro, a music teacher and an organist who is turning 50 in September. “Basically when you get to 50 and you can’t do something, there’s that negativity. Part of my not telling them was ‘What if I fail at this?’ ”
Mr. Mauro, a bear-chested man dressed in sweat pants and an oversize bright yellow T-shirt, joined 15 other seemingly fearless New Yorkers who had also never learned to ride.
That morning, under overcast skies, the mildly sloping blacktop at Brooklyn Bridge Park felt heavy with apprehension as teachers from the nonprofit Bike New York doled out bicycles and helmets and explained the basics of balancing and then riding. The students tightly gripped their handlebars and silently tried to follow. The only sounds that could be heard were the “click, click, clicks” of spinning wheels, the chirps of encouragement from instructors and the sporadic joyful yelps when students started to make their first shaky journeys across the road.
“This is actually more gratifying because they have so much baggage,” said one instructor, Kenneth J. Podziba, the president of Bike New York, which has taught about 2,100 adults in the last four years.
As students broke off to practice, some were too embarrassed to discuss why they had never learned. Others shared stories of parents who berated them when they learned to ride, childhood memories of a biking accident that spooked them or perhaps an obsession with roller skating that surpassed all other interests. And as childhood memories segued to the teenage rite of passing a drivers’ test, the step of learning to ride a bike had somehow been overlooked. It was something all these students seemed to want to fix.
“I want to do this before I die,” said Chaya Zaetz, who moved to Brooklyn from Morocco 30 years ago and never learned.
She said that though she liked basketball, gymnastics and dance while growing up, she did not remember bikes even being around. She wanted to learn to cycle with her husband, she said, so she had rented a bike with training wheels and watched a video on the Internet. But that did not work.
This class was her third try at learning. She tucked the front of her flowing skirt into her waistband and gingerly walked her bike across the lot.
Rénee Romain, who grew up on a steep hill in Trinidad, never forgot how, at 11, she attended the funeral of her 16-year-old cousin who broke his neck riding a bicycle. She said she was frightened again by cycling when she tried at 16 and ran into a tree. Today she said she felt more confident as she slipped off her flip-flops and even cycled barefoot.
“I was always apprehensive,” she said. “Getting older you say, ‘What the heck!’ ”
Some students whizzed around on their bikes in minutes and moved across the lot like a graceful and colorful school of fish. Nicole Sterling, a 40-year-old math teacher, picked up cycling so quickly that she immediately envisioned herself running errands on a bike in her Crown Heights neighborhood, using the city’s new bike paths and cycling through Turin, Italy, and Cambridge, England, later this summer.
“It will be very casual rides through the countryside,” she said brightly. “It feels great. I feel totally empowered.”
Ms. Zaetz did not learn as fast. She scraped the back of her left ankle with her pedal and needed a bandage. She murmured that she felt grateful her children were not watching her and pledged to return the next week.
Mr. Mauro seemed more determined. He hunched his shoulders over his Schwinn, scrunched his face with determination and looked as if he carried his own invisible burdens.
“My father didn’t know how to teach me,” he said delicately. “So it wasn’t a very pleasant experience.”
As other students hopped off their bikes, filled with questions about taking on Manhattan’s bike paths and buying new bicycles that afternoon, Mr. Mauro was the only one left. He wiped sweat onto his sleeve and characterized himself as being in the bottom of his class.
But by noon, his teetering gradually and almost magically turned into a glide. Suddenly he was circling the lot and smiling. Then he hopped off and hugged Mr. Podziba.
“You made my day,” he said. “You made my 50 years.”
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