For many, learning how to ride a bike is a rite of passage. For others, it never happens. Now, local adults are finding out what they’ve been missing.
Sheldon Mains is helping local adults take care of unfinished childhood business: learning how to ride a bike.
In a metro area known for its thriving bike culture, Mains discovered that there’s a surprisingly large number of adults who have little or no experience on two wheels.
As an avid cyclist, he’s trying to change that. Two years ago, Mains worked with the Seward Neighborhood Group to establish a community bike center in the Cedar-Riverside area of Minneapolis. That center, SPOKES, offers free learn-to-ride classes for adults and teens that focus on what Mains calls the three basics of biking: balance, braking and the rules of the road.
The majority of students aren’t native Minnesotans. Many come from areas where biking wasn’t popular or affordable. But Mains believes that something as simple as a bicycle can offer independence.
Biking, he said, is all about “empowerment, freedom and joy.”
It wasn’t the food or the weather or even the language that shocked Sumitra Ramachandran the most about her new home — it was the bikes.
“When I saw people [on bikes] it was weird, really different,” said Ramachandran, who moved from India to Minneapolis two years ago.
Riding bicycles in India is common for kids, but as soon as young adults can drive, they trade two wheels for four. While Ramachandran, now 38, had childhood friends with bikes, she and her brother just never learned.
“And once I was older, I thought it wouldn’t be easy to learn,” she said. “I started driving and never had a chance to go back to biking.”
Now, as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, she depends on the bus, but that’s not always convenient. If she misses a bus, she’s stuck waiting 30 minutes for the next one. So she decided that she lived close enough to the U to try biking. “If I have a chance, I have to learn it,” she told herself.
She googled classes, found SPOKES and signed up for the learn-to-ride program. She also started attending clinics on how to make simple bike repairs.
“Biking gives you more independence on what you want to do,” Ramachandran said. “Which is exactly what I want.”
Asya Kosygina has always been a walker.
While she was growing up, Kosygina’s Russian immigrant family crisscrossed the United States. A bicycle was never in the picture, so she learned early on to rely on her own two feet.
Even when she moved to Minneapolis six months ago to study art history at the University of Minnesota, the 22-year-old kept walking. About 11 miles a day.