Originally published on 2019/10/30

Excuse the dramatic pauses, marked by the periods and capitals, but the past few days have been exhilarating and rewarding.

Last Monday, I finally learned how to ride a bicycle.

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Not me, but I wish I were that comfortable riding a bicycle. ( via Unsplash by Harry Cunningham@harrycunnningham1)

Wait, that sounds too passive and vague. Let me try again: Last Monday, I was able to get from one end of the street to the next on a bicycle — actually pedaling it — with only minimal wobbling and falling.

And I’m pretty stoked about that achievement because I had finally learned how to ride a bicycle — in a foreign country no less. I practiced for many weeks (yes, weeks, get off my back) alone because my nearest friend was a 30-minute walk away(and she would have to ride 2 trains to get to my apartment).

I would also arrive home around 6:30 or past 7:00 since my workplace was 44 minutes away by train. I didn’t practice every day, but I did it frequently enough that I was able to finally manage my balance.

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This is who I aspire to be in the future. (via Unsplash by lee Hans@hans14)

On Sunday, I managed to make two cycles (on the pedal) before falling. I was elated. I tried again on Monday and was able to do four cycles (I really have no idea what term I should use) before falling.

But I was so hyped over what I was able to do that I kept going…and going…and going. Until I was able to pedal and keep myself (and my bike) upright.

It wasn’t smooth. I kept falling and wobbling and nearly crashing into concrete walls. But nothing was able to take away the sense of achievement I felt because I knew, even if it would take me a long time to become very comfortable on my mamachari (Yes, that’s so anime of me.), that I had done it.

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The mamachari looks kinda like this — big wheels, suitable for front and rear baskets, and riser bars. (via Unsplash by Chris Barbalis@cbarbalis)

Fast forward to today, Wednesday, and the rides are smoother. I don’t always have to push myself off the ground like I’m about to do a sprint. I’m more relaxed, and I was able to bike a longer distance than last time. I was able to reach the local supermarket. I also tried pedaling down a road with one or two pedestrians. (People, other cyclists, and cars freak me out — I get very panicky when they appear.)

But today was also the day when my bike toppled over — with me still on it. And this time, I wasn’t able to kick a leg out to stop my fall. My hands prevented me from face-planting on the rough pavement, but my palms and knees were skinned, and I had to walk alongside my bike for a few minutes before I had the courage to ride it again.

I think it was a case of complacency. I thought I was good enough and that I could control the wobble. I was wrong. I became slow to react, and that caused me (very minor) injuries.

I’m just thankful that happened without cars or another bicycle right behind me.

Moral lesson: Always be humble and don’t think you’ll never make a mistake (especially when you’re still starting out).

Why bother learning to ride a bicycle anyway? I ride the train to work, and the public transpo here is pretty convenient.

The answer: I simply want to learn that skill. I want to go on grocery runs on a bike. I want to tour around parks and heritage sites on a bike. I want to exercise.

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Bikes are a dime a dozen in Japan. (via Unsplash by Berto Macario@bertomacario)

The question really isn’t why but why not. Riding a bicycle is pretty common in Japan, and the city I live in is very residential. I don’t have to worry about getting into the main road if I don’t want to. I can use other routes.

Also — and let me tell you that this is one of the biggest reasons I bought a bike and practiced my butt off — it feels nice. There’s a different kind of high when it comes to riding a bicycle.

It’s not easy because the mamachari isn’t small or light. It’s heavy and was built to be sturdy and durable. It was built for carrying groceries, books, small boxes, and even children. (I would not think of doing that but the Japanese are very bold.)

I have to use a lot of leg power and arm power to grip the handle bars and not wobble. And I really couldn’t complain because I got it for like 9,500 yen at a secondhand/bicycle repair shop, where I also did the registration for no extra cost.

I’ll probably get a lighter one in the future, but for now, I’m going to practice to be a better cyclist and not be a menace on the streets — and to enjoy biking, of course.

Jam Guibone

Hello! I am Jam. Welcome to my blog! I initially started this to document my adventures while working in Japan as an ALT under the JET Programme. I hope all the information here will be useful to you, whether or not you're also a JET, ALT, or just someone traveling abroad.

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