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teach an old dog a new trick?(13 posts)

teach an old dog a new trick?Warren128
Jul 25, 2001 7:12 PM
hi gang, i've been a roadie since I was a teenager. I have a good friend who does not know how to ride a bike. He is 44 years old. Is it too late to teach him? Any suggestions on the best way to teach riding a bike to an adult? When I was about 10 years old, my friend taught me on his single speed cruiser (probably a Schwinn), but I gather that it was easier to learn when I was a kid. This is no joke, i'm looking for some real advice. He's my regular racquetball partner, and I fear his arm has severe tendonitis that will put him out of commission on the racquetball scene for a while. I'd like to get him into another sport to help keep him in shape.

An initial thought is to keep him off a road bike until he learns to balance, so I'm thinking that a rental mtb or cruiser would be the way to go.

Has anyone out there learned as an adult? Maybe you can offer your insights too.


Some real advice to give...Cima Coppi
Jul 25, 2001 7:32 PM
You have an interesting situation to tackle teaching an adult how to ride a bike. Adults would be very difficult to teach, as their center of gravity is much higher. Teaching balance is even more crucial for you.

My advice would be this. Set him up on a bike that fits him well on a stationary trainer. This way you can teach him about balance and pedaling strokes in a manner in which he cannot fall off. This can be done on either a road bike or a mountain bike. For his first trip out on the road, have hime ride an MTB with road slicks on it. He won't be as intimidated having wide tires vs. a road bike. As he gets more comfortable riding, he may want to try a road bike. If this happens, get him back on the stationary trainer and teach him about riding style and efficient pedal strokes.

Its a difficult task, but if you can keep him focused on the ease of riding on 2 wheels, he'll kick himself for not trying sooner.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!!

It's never too late...DINOSAUR
Jul 25, 2001 7:34 PM
It's never too late. I suggest using a single speed old cruiser, possibly an old used one that can afford taking a few spills. The hardest part is just gaining confidence. I learned by having someone walk behind me as I pedaled, then he let go, unknow to me, and I was riding by myself and I didn't know it. When I taught my daughter I had her wear a helmet, basketball knee pads, and we practiced on an asphalt parking lot in the early evening when there was no traffic.
If you have access to a large, smooth, shortly clipped lawn it might be better in case he takes a spill. My daughter took a couple of spills and got rather frustrated, but she learned in a couple of nights, and she was only around six years old. I never forgot the first time I rode, nor the person who taught me....
It's never too late...JoeG
Jul 25, 2001 8:28 PM
props to ya for taking the initiative to get him out and rolling...definitely not an easy task. however, i don't think an old cruiser type bike would be the most practical rig to learn on. i "toyed" with one the other day at the local shop, and remembered just how hard it was to steer with those wide handlebars. the steering and handling is much more precise and acute than it is on say a comfort bike and/or mountain bike, so i'd shoot for teaching him on something more modern. not only should it be easier to learn on, but it will also eliminate the transition from the cruiser to his new bike if he planned on getting something else. good luck
It's never too late...Cliff Oates
Jul 26, 2001 3:55 AM
Agreed, the only thing to fear is fear itself. As kids, we were indestructible. As adults, we know we aren't and cycling looks dangerous. Fat tires and a grassy field would be helpful for your friend's confidence.

By the way, I suffered from tenosynovitis (swelling of the tendon sheath in my wrist) last winter and cycling was very beneficial. My physical therapist encouragded me to spend all the time I could stand doing cardio exercises as the increased blood flow helped heal the injury.
re: teach an old dog a new trick?Trent in WA
Jul 25, 2001 10:02 PM
I wasn't exactly an "adult" when I learned, but I only learned when I was 15. I had been told all my life that my poor eyesight would make it hard for me to maintain balance on the bike, and I believed it, until one day I just got fed up with running along behind my friends when they were riding around town and told them I wanted to learn. So we borrowed another friend's Schwinn Varsity 10-speed, found a nice grassy lawn, and commenced learning. I was riding OK by the end of that afternoon. Another friend was so impressed that I learned that he lent me his Free Spirit. It didn't have any brakes. But I was young and stupid then, my skin eventually grew back, and my mother was so impressed (and so terrified by what I was riding) that she helped me get a better bike--or at least one that had brakes.

So, my advice: If your friend wants to ride, get him started on the kind of bike that he ultimately wants to ride. If that means you put him on a road bike, so be it. He will fall down, get bruised, and draw blood no matter what he's on, but if he feels like he's moving towards his goal, it'll be easier to deal with the discouragement and pain. My only countrary suggestion: If he seems drawn to riding an ultratwitchy racing bike, steer him clear of that, at least for starters. Definitely go to a park--grass is much softer than asphalt. Of course, don't start him on clipless pedals or toe clips until he's riding around confidently, however long that takes.

Keep in mind, too, that one of the problems that plagues adult beginners in many fields is that learning a new skill--particularly a new physical skill--frequently entails a long period of, well, sucking at it, and a lot of adults have a hard time emotionally with that. I bet that your friend's going to have a harder time with that than he will with balancing whatever bike he starts with. Be gentle, and don't hesitate to armor him with knee pads, elbow pads, gloves, kevlar body suit, full-face gladiatorial helmet, whatever it takes. You might want to keep the seat height lower than would be good for an experienced rider. Above all, though, keep in mind that he's doing a truly awesome thing: if he's 44 and never learned how to ride, he's probably not just acquiring a skill, but overcoming a fear. It's cool that you're helping him with that. Keep us posted, tell him that we're rooting for him, and remind him to keep the rubber side down.

interesting the variation in advice in this postHaiku d'état
Jul 26, 2001 4:54 AM
my take is learn to walk, then run...

instead of renting a mountain bike for a week or more, buy one out of the weekly newspaper classifieds or from a yard sale for the same or less cash. fat tires and wide handlebars seem to make more sense to me than learning on a bike with 23mm wide tires, yes?

otherwise, knee & elbow pads, gloves, helmet, glasses, and a little bravado--and tenacity! i am of the school of thought that keeping one on a huffy/magna/roadmaster too long will ruin their idea of bikes and comfort, as they are not truly built for more than minimal when it's time to move on, so be it.

not to belittle your friend, but here's the guru himself on teaching kids to ride:

good luck!!! it would be interesting to know what happens. let us know!
re: teach an old dog a new trick?Lone Gunman
Jul 26, 2001 6:35 AM
All other posts covered the learning aspect, I would suggest borrowing some hockey or roller blade padding for knees and elbows and head find an open parking lot and commence learning maybe even in the grass for when he falls.
my $.02Starliner
Jul 26, 2001 7:34 AM
there's lots of good advice here, maybe some overkill, but maybe not - it's your call.

the first thing i did when teaching my two kids how to ride was to skip the training wheels, get them seated on their bike, and have them just sit there with me standing aside with one hand holding the seat and my other gripping the bar.

my intention was to acquaint them with the feel of the bike's balance, which is at it's worst when stationary. my presence at their side reassured their security when i would gently lean the bike a bit to one side or the other to help them learn to shift their weight to compensate for the lean.

continuing to hold onto the bike at their side, the next step was to walk them along, continuing to acquaint them with balance while introducing the effect of turning the bars.

at this point, you fill them in on the hows and whys of pedalling, and the importance of pedalling to create motion so they can keep balanced and upright.

when i thought they were ready, i ran along beside them and let them go with a push. at age four, my daughter took four tries before she was riding by herself. my son was better: at three, his first try was successful.

teaching them to ride was the easiest part. the things which took more practice and patience for them was learning how to get on and go by themselves, and how to bring the bike to a stop while standing up. but by then, the thrill of riding had already hooked them, so the few awkward moments they had to experience at the beginning and at the end were bearable and soon forgotten.

good luck and keep us posted.
One more superfluous suggestion: Take off the pedalsRetro
Jul 26, 2001 7:47 AM
One thing I did with both my kids was take the pedals off (so they wouldn't run over their heels) and lower the seat so they could put their feet down comfortably on both sides. Then you find a LITTLE hill, one just steep enough to get enough speed to stay upright, and let them coast down like they were on a scooter. They can put their feet down any time. Took my kids 10 minutes or so to be comfortable going straight, then we progressed to zigzagging around little rocks. Then you put the pedals back on and let him use them as footrests, and then you tell him to move his feet and zap, he's riding.
Lots of useful advice! You guys are great. Thanks again. (nm)Warren128
Jul 26, 2001 10:03 AM
just do it!ET
Jul 26, 2001 12:01 PM
I taught a guy about that same age around a year ago. He somehow never learned in his youth and was still too afraid, and now had to ride a rented adult tricycle if available or stay with the food when his family went on an outing to a bike trail. I told him repeatedly it's no big deal, and after a few years of bumping into him and asking if he learned yet and telling him it's so simple no problem, he finally took up my offer. All one needs to overcome is the balance; the rest will come later. You do the same as you do for a kid: go to a school parking lot after hours, use a beater bike with easy reach, even ladies' bike is fine, lower the seat so he can put his feet on the ground while seated, use old-fashioned pedals (no clips or clipless), tell him to keep hands on the brake levers, hold him from behind (hopefully he's not way overweight or this could be a problem) and run with him and let go as he peddles, and just shout "Balance"! It took just two half-hour lessons (with the worst being a slow-fall or two) and now he kicks himself for not having learned decades earlier. In short, he learned the same way as a kid. I didn't want to be rewarded, but as gratitude he gave me a $40 gift certificate to an LBS.
From one who learned at the age of 27 . . .Scott B
Jul 26, 2001 12:04 PM
I agree with most of the advice that's been given. (FYI, I'm now 43, and, while not exactly a racer, I consider myself a pretty decent recreational rider). ABSOLUTELY put him on a mountain bike/hybrid. I learned on a "racing" bike (Fuji Absolut) and was amazed at how much more stable a fat tire bike was the first time I got on one. Also, when I started, I was terrified of moving my hands off the handlebars, and always kept them near the (suicide) brakes. Since it's natural to have your hands near the brake levers on an mtb/hybrid, that's another advantage. Also, if you put him on a cruiser, make sure it doesn't have foot brakes - coasting is a good first step in learning how to balance. I also agree that you should take him out to a grassy area, if possible. Trust, me, he will fall, and trust me further, the scrapes and bruises that you laugh off at 7 or 8 are MUCH more painful at 27 or 28, let alone 44. If you can't find rollerblade type elbow/knee pads, then at least get him some soft basketball type pads. The elbows and the knees (as well as the palms) took the brunt of my falls. Wait until he gets comfortable riding the bike before thinking about shifting gears, etc. - that's just another distraction he doesn't need when all of his concntration is spent on staying upright. You also don't want to distract him too much with steering - he'll try to steer the handlebars like a car, instead of shifting his weight. So, the wider, flatter, and more empty the (hopefully) grassy area is, the better. FYI, a few of my buds taught me as if I were 6 or 7 - running along holding me up on slight downhills, etc. I still bless them for that! Good luck, and let us know how it goes!!!!!