Eli Learns to Ride

Posted by Doug Shidell, December 8th, 2009 1 response

I met Eli Effinger-Weintraub at the Living Green Expo in May of 2007. She took a deep breath, and said, “I don’t know how to ride a bicycle.”

“That was two weeks before my thirtieth birthday.” She wrote later in an email conversation. It was the beginning of what is now a two -and-a-half year odyssey that has taken her from non-cyclist to bicycle advocate who is using her bike regularly for transportation and recreation. Her story is inspiring because Eli is not a naturally gifted cyclist. She’s had to work at it and even now she is cautiously expanding her range and building confidence.

Here’s her story, mostly in her own words.

“My childhood started out fairly normally. I had the tricycle; I had the training wheels; the training wheels came off. Then my mother informed me that I was free to ride my bike as much as I wanted: in the driveway. Even at age eight, this could only hold my interest for so long before I got bored and just…gave up.

“In May of 2007, my wife Leora and I moved from St. Louis Park to south Minneapolis. As we explored our new area, I said, “Everything around here is a little too far away to walk to, but close enough to feel like a schmuck starting the car to get there.”

“They’re perfect biking distance,” Leora said.

“They are,” I agreed, “if you know how to ride a bike.”

What followed was an extensive search for bike classes. Eli found plenty, for kids 5 to 12 years old. A short time later, at the Living Green Expo, I suggested lowering the saddle on her bike and shuffling around until she got a sense of the balance.

“That sounded like crazy talk,” Eli remembers thinking, “but after two other people gave me the same advice, I figured there must be something to it.” She and Leora got new bikes in August. Eli’s was an “eggplant-colored” bike that she named aubergine or “Aubey.”

“I quickly came to appreciate the shuffling technique. Even on foot, I’m not graceful, and staying upright on a bicycle requires a sense of balance that I had to dig deep to find. Inch by inch over the next few months, I raised the seat, until I was shuffling at normal riding height. Then the snow came.”

So ended her first year.

“When spring melted the snow, I was gripped with terror. If bicycles had never evolved beyond their draisine ancestors, I would have been the queen. But cyclists nowadays will insist on pedaling the darned things. Maybe I could slip Aubey onto Craigslist and forget the whole thing.

But Leora was eager to get on her own bike. I told her, “If you want to ride, you have to help me. You have to do the Dad thing.” With her holding the back of the seat, I pedaled until I mostly had the sense of it – and then she let go. I wobbled up and down our alley until I could get from one end to the other without crashing into the neighbors’ garages and recycling bins.

“A series of “firsts” commenced: My first “real” ride (to the Mississippi and along the River Road); my first night ride (unintentional; we didn’t plan to stay at the party that long, really!); my first solo ride (I don’t know if that scared Leora or me more).

“Always, Leora was a tireless cheerleader, riding either just ahead of me to call out hazards or just behind to watch how I was doing. I was running into a lot of cars, but otherwise I was making progress.”

For Eli, her first errand by bike demonstrated how obsessed she was becoming about riding. “The errand was to our corner grocery store, a six-minute walk, but I wanted to ride that much.” She says.

“There was one other “first” to overcome: The first fall. I’d made it to the river and almost all the way back without incident and with a minimum of wobbling. I got cocky. I took the turn into our alley far too wide. I knew I was going to slam into the curb.

“Calm came over me. I was going to hit the curb. It was going to hurt a lot. I made peace with that inevitability, and I suspect it hurt less than if I had gone down fighting. That’s not to say that it didn’t hurt.

“I spent the following Sunday morning working on turns and stops in an empty parking lot. It was an important rite of passage. I’d had a real fall. I was a real cyclist.

“I started riding to doctor’s appointments, parties, picnics with friends – if I could get there by bike, I did. Nothing daunted me. Only the cold is stopping me at the moment. I’m not ready for winter riding yet.”

What’s next?

“For now, I’m content riding Aubey around my neighborhood, riding the River Road with Leora, or making a dash to the store.

“I’m aiming for the St. Paul Classic or the Minneapolis Bike Tour next year (or both), and I may eventually work up to long-distance fund-raising endeavors, like the AIDS ride or something else ridiculously long and involved.

“I’ve become convinced that the bicycle was the greatest invention humankind ever wrought, and that belief has made me a bicycle evangelist. I don’t have to proselytize. All I have to do is pedal.”

“What an amazing gift it is to be able to ride a bicycle.” Eli says. “I don’t take that gift for granted.”

Filed under: Bikeverywhere News, Misc

One Comment to “Eli Learns to Ride”

  1. Eli Says:

    By the way, Doug, thank you so much for getting this story up. I hope I can provide some inspiration and confidence to other uncertain adult riders, the same way you did for me!