A Denverite reader met me at City Park to teach me to ride a bike

And liked it!
9 min. read
Local cyclists and good samaritans Sheridan Ash (left) and Sarah McGregor (right) help Denverite reporter Desiree Mathurin learn to ride a bike at City Park. June 8, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

When I moved to Denver, I learned that there was a strong bike culture here. Which makes sense. Denver doesn’t have the best public transportation system nor many walkable neighborhoods, so the only true alternative to driving would be biking.

Sometimes, the culture gets a bit intense. The dirty looks for driving into Cheesman Park accidentally (I’m sorry!). The scoffs when folks want free parking at their apartment buildings (rent is already too high!). The dream to remove all people from their cars completely (can’t we have both, safely?).

But I get it. Cyclists do have it harder than drivers, especially when it comes to infrastructure. Drivers should be far more cautious of cyclists, especially when making turns on red lights. Bike lanes should be more accessible like roadways.

I would say I’m an advocate for better modes of all transportation.

But when cyclists start exclaiming that I should shed myself of my baby Altima and hop on a bike, I gain a bit of satisfaction letting them in on a little secret: I don’t know how to ride a bike.

The reactions are always great. There’s the stammers that say, “Oh, really? I’m sorry. I guess cars are okay.” There’s the nonbelievers who think I haven’t ridden since I was kid and if I try again it’ll come back to me. And the bullies that still shout that all cars suck.

Then there are the nice cyclists who offer to teach me.

Local cyclist and good samaritan Sarah McGregor helps Denverite reporter Desiree Mathurin learn to ride a bike at City Park. June 8, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

I’ve been offered lessons a few times and I finally decided to take someone up on their offer.

Here’s the story of why I, a 33-year-old New Yorker, don’t know how to ride a bike and how a kind Denverite taught me the basics.

Prime bike learning years are between three to eight years old. I got my bike when I was around five. It was bright pink with shimmery white tassels at the handlebars. It was equipped with training wheels that had white rims. Gorgeous.

But we lived in Harlem in a walk-up building on the sixth floor. Credit to my father for carrying the heavy bike up and down the stairs a few times but needless to say it wasn’t enough for me to adequately learn how to ride.

So, my bike collected dust.

I tried again when I was around 15 years old. We lived in Long Island where public transportation is nonexistent, so all my high school friends would travel via bike while I either got dropped off, took a cab or walked.

I was determined to learn, finding that the hardest part was getting started and braking. I used my aunt’s sloped driveway to help kick-off and it happened! off! We went to the park and I thought, oh, this is pretty chill.

But alas just because I could get there, doesn’t mean I know how to ride. I couldn’t get started once we stopped riding and had to walk the bike back home.

Driving is much easier. I got my permit when I was 16 and my junior license when I was 17 and never thought about biking again.

Until Denver.

I felt a little ashamed not knowing how to ride a bike while everyone screamed that biking was the answer to the city’s transportation woes. Tooting my own horn, I’d say I’m a great driver and cyclists need not fear me on the road but nonetheless not knowing how to ride has been a joke and also a side-eye moment.

My colleagues have offered to teach me over the years (shoutout to Dave Sachs and Kyle Harris.) A waiter at Miracle Bar offered to teach me. I think he said he owns a bike shop on Colfax? I always said if I decided to learn, I’d write about it because why not.

Recently, fellow reporter Rebecca Tauber mentioned in the newsletter that I didn’t know how to ride a bike.

That’s when reader Sarah McGregor reached out.

Local cyclist and good samaritan Sarah McGregor wears bikes on her ears. June 8, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

McGregor sent me a video that explains how to ride a bike and said it helped her teach her granddaughter.

“I thought my granddaughter would never learn, so finally at the age of 9, I taught her with this method,” McGregor wrote.

She added, “I would even help you if you want!”

So, I took her up on her offer.

Rebecca, former CPR administrative assistant Sheridan Ash, visual journalist Kevin J. Beaty and I met McGregor at City Park on a hot Saturday by the Thatcher Memorial Fountain.

Rebecca let me borrow her Cannondale and Sheridan let me borrow her helmet.

McGregor said her father taught her to ride a bike when she was about six years old. No training wheels. He’d just hold onto her seat to stabilize her.

“Training wheels are a little worthless because they teach you to ride a tricycle,” McGregor laughed.

Biking is a major mode of transportation for McGregor. She said she started commuting by bike when she was a student at East High School. Having McGregor return to the school to teach me how to ride was serendipitous and gave the day an even cooler edge.

Denverite reporter Desiree Mathurin starts with baby steps as she learns to ride a bike at City Park. June 8, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

“I've basically commuted [by bike] since ‘69,” McGregor said. “I've worked in Littleton. I've worked in Commerce City… I’d bike to the light rail.”

Now McGregor goes on her own biking tours, traveling trails around New York, Nebraska, South Dakota. She recently rode down to Parker.

McGregor added that biking around that city has gotten better. Plus, there are a ton of “little quiet streets” to go down to get away from the traffic.

Now, back to the lesson.

McGregor is a teacher. Not the bike riding kind. A retired Spanish and English teacher. But she has the teaching spirit, so we immediately got to work.

To get on, McGregor suggested climbing on from the left.

“My dad was a rancher and I guess you always get on a horse from the left,” McGregor said.

From a learning standpoint, McGregor said I should have my feet flat on the ground just in case but once I get comfortable I would want to be on my toes.

She adjusted the bike’s seat to my height and explained the basics. On Rebecca’s bike, the right handle is the back brake, the left is the front. Fun fact: I didn’t know there was a back and front brake.

Denverite reporter Desiree Mathurin learns to ride a bike at City Park. June 8, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

McGregor said I could grip them both to stop but if I had to use one, use the back brake.

“One time I pressed the front and I was going too fast, zoom, went right over the handlebars,” McGregor said.

Next, we realized Rebecca’s back tire had a flat. McGregor had a pump on her.

“If you're going to use it for transportation, you got to have your pump and your tubes or your patch kit,” McGregor said.

Once Rebecca’s sabotage was rectified, we started walking and gliding.

Local cyclist and good samaritan Sarah McGregor pumps up a tire as she helps Denverite reporter Desiree Mathurin learn to ride a bike at City Park. June 8, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The video McGregor watched said we should remove the pedals to glide, this way they don’t hit the back of your ankles. But since this was Rebecca’s bike, I declined.

Surprisingly, I only hit my ankles once. But, glide I did. I’d walk with the bike, picking up the pace, then eventually picking up my legs. At certain points, McGregor had me lift my legs like I was riding a broom. I always knew I was a witch in a different life.

Gliding felt good. I had decent balance but needed to get used to the brakes.

Next, we slalomed. If you’re like me and have no idea what that is, I’ll explain. It’s a skiing term (another sport I cannot do) that just means to zigzag or ride in a wavy motion.

That… went okay. The path we were on dipped down toward the edges, so I found myself heading toward the grass. But there was some curving.

However, clouds were beginning to gather. The sunny day was starting to turn into a rainy one and I was determined to get some pedaling in before the rain started.

McGregor suggested putting my right pedal at a middle height, so that when I glide, I could place my foot on the pedal and continue through the motion.

I tried for a little bit but when I’d try to place my foot on the pedal, I’d lose balance.

But: determination.

I was doing a bit more gliding. The path was sloped downward and I was picking up speed. All of a sudden I had one foot on a pedal. Then the other foot on the pedal. And then I was pedaling. And then there was cheering. And then I lost my balance.

But I pedaled! For a solid 30 seconds.

Local cyclist and good samaritan Sarah McGregor (left) helps Denverite reporter Desiree Mathurin learn to ride a bike at City Park. June 8, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

We continued a bit more but then the clouds came by. McGregor biked to meet us, so she had to leave to avoid getting drenched.

But she, so far, has been my favorite and most effective bike teacher. It’s probably because it is a joyful thing to teach someone something and watch them achieve it.

“I will say it's awesome to learn how to ride a bike yourself, but the absolute peak of excitement is to teach a kid to ride their bike,” McGregor said.

I can see myself getting back on a bike. A little bike ride through a park heading to a picnic is a huge vibe.

McGregor said one of the big things about biking is getting a bike that fits you right. It's true. My bum still hurts from the seat.

Will I buy a bike? Probably not. Will it become my main choice of transportation? No, I love my car (or public transportation.)

But for the few seconds of pedaling, it was pretty nice to feel the breeze and be a part of the biking community.

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