Never learned how to ride a bike? With a class dedicated specifically to the area’s 55 and older residents, you could be coasting in three hours or less.
It should come as no surprise that Arlington, and Washington, DC, have more than a few things in common, including locals’ love of biking. It’s an eco-friendly and convenient alternative to driving in an area where traffic can pile up in a matter of minutes, and the region’s residents love staying in shape.
Earlier this year, the same report that named Arlington the fittest city in the nation, named Washington, DC, the top city in the country for bicycling and walking to work, with 17.7% of people participating in a 30-day period, as reported by the American College of Sports Medicine and Anthem Foundation.
But if you’ve never learned how to ride a bike, the advantages of biking in NoVA and the nation’s capital are out of reach.
Henry Dunbar, BikeArlington’s director of active transportation, has made it his job to make biking more accessible to everyone. In some cases, that has meant advocating for better biking trails and updated biking maps. But as another route to reach residents, his work has sparked an initiative to host free learn-to-ride classes.
“We are always looking for people’s barriers and why people don’t want to bike,” says Dunbar. “And 60% of people say they would be willing to ride a bike. But there is a subset of people who have said they never really learned how, particularly in immigrant populations.”
Sure, 5-year-olds covered head-to-toe in padding pick it up pretty easily from modest training with their parents. But it’s adults who might need one-on-one training to become confident enough to take two wheels across the town.
On Friday, Oct. 25, from 8 to 11 a.m., BikeArlington is set to host a free 55-plus Learn-to-Ride class for older community residents, at the Arlington Mill Community Center, teaching everything from strapping on your helmet to signaling a turn in traffic.
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“With seniors we take it a lot slower, but we teach them in the same way that we teach children,” says Dunbar. “We take the pedals off the bikes and start by getting them to balance them, because balance is an issue for a lot of adults, and we want to make sure they will be completely comfortable.”
By starting with no pedals, Dunbar says, adults have to focus on balancing on their own and getting a feel for the bike that they will later control. Once the balance is mastered, the pedals are reattached and it’s time to start coasting.
“We do it inside a gym space which is perfectly flat, perfectly climate-controlled and as controlled as we can get,” Dunbar says. “Then we just get [participants] to walk back and forth, walk and glide with the bike, and eventually, once you’ve got the skills down of being able to pedal and turn going in both directions, we get into signaling and looking over the shoulder while keeping the bike straight.”
Although the lessons may sound simple, the course is designed to take three hours, ensuring everyone has one-on-one instruction and older residents can trust their abilities.
Dunbar can hardly contain the list of benefits that come from giving someone the opportunity to learn to ride a bike, especially at an older age.
“With an aging population, mobility is one of the things that can diminish their quality of life, and biking is definitely something they can use to keep moving and stay active in a low-impact way,” says Dunbar. “You can also triple the amount of ground you can cover without even getting in your car. And all the benefits of being outside and being in the fresh air are just even more of an added benefit.”
For those who might feel cautious, hesitant or embarrassed to seek guidance on riding a bike, Dunbar says there’s no reason not to attend, even if you’ve ridden before.
“Their concerns are very valid,” says Dunbar. “But they can come out and learn how to ride, where to ride, all about [Arlington’s] extensive trail network and even find the low-stress streets for when you get off the trails.”
And if you’re still not convinced?
“We will take you along as slowly as you need to go,” says Dunbar. // Arlington Mill Community Center: 909 S. Dinwiddle St., Arlington; free