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Can Obese Kids Learn to Ride a Bike? Ever? (Not me...)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Those who have been my Spark-Friend for a while know full well that I have been challenged by obesity for my whole life, beginning with the earliest childhood recollections. This manifested in all manner of damage, not the least of which has been psychological. Yep - make no mistake - I am damaged goods. And before you wonder, my parents did the best they could on many fronts but on this central issue they were beyond oblivious.

Example: On the first day of first grade, as I walked up to the newly opened elementary school in our neighborhood, a kindergartner already present remarked loudly "Here comes the jolly fatso." That was 1967, people. I remember it vividly, like it was yesterday. Torment such as this and worse would rear its ugly head in gym class, at recess and when other kids sought to do anything requiring fitness, coordination or both. I was the last kid picked on any team, etc. My career in recreational league team sports was brief and remarkable only in my horrid level of play.

(Previously I have blogged about the social issues arising from childhood, teenage and young adult obesity. Some of you will recall those blogs. The issues changed over the years, but the theme remained.)

Obesity, un-coordination and lack-of-fitness met one another at that nexus of childhood experiences: riding a bicycle. This rite of passage simply was something I never mastered. More precisely, I sucked at it totally. Like many other physical and social challenges arising from my childhood obesity, I languished in my ineptitude in quasi-stoic silence. I worked around the issue, though was not invited by other kids and their families when the activity would be bike-riding (which it was, not uncommonly).

Now to be completely candid, I now know that my inability to ride a bike may have its origin in genetic balance issues as much as it did in obesity and lack of fitness. My mother never could ride either, which is something I did not know at the time. And despite zealous and considerable effort on our part and theirs, neither of our kids mastered the skill successfully.

The second-nature nature of bike-riding is a front-and-center omnipresent challenge for folks with balance issues. Mom recently was diagnosed with a neurological disorder of genetic origin, which has balance issues as a hallmark . So there, an explanation (excuse?) arose, and Susan818127 and I proceeded to end the bike-riding misadventures for our kids in favor of other activities in which they could enjoy greater success.

Why bring all these unhappy memories and experiences up now? Today's Washington Post carries a large story about how legions of adults are learning to ride bikes for the first time, never having done so as a kid. Here is the article:

I read it with some interest and intrigue. Maybe I could learn to ride, after all? Skimming the comments after the article, neither genetic balance disorders nor childhood obesity seem hallmarks of childhood-walkers-turned-adult
-riders. My new-found gym-rat capabilities make this concept just a tad intriguing, but I'd probably need different genes to have a reasonable expectation of success.

So, for those of you obese as kids, did it get in the way of learning to ride a bike?
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  • JIBBIE49
    1852 days ago
    I knew lots of kids growing up that couldn't ride a bike. Some were big some were small but it seems to be there are just some people who can't ride a bike. I like the idea of a stationary bike, it's alot harder to get in trouble with those. Although, for me I love being on a bike and just riding. Now that it's nice weather out I might have to give it a try. emoticon
    1853 days ago
  • DRB13_1
    There is a delightful Frasier episode where Frasier and Niles have to learn to ride bikes as adults for a charity ride... hope your efforts are better than theirs, smile.
    One of the Supreme Court Justices is an avid bike rider and has endured several injuries, including breaking his shoulder blade last week and requiring surgery - I think he is 74.
    I love riding on paved trails and feeling the wind in my face, but haven't gotten out recently. Most times I just get on the recumbent at the gym to spare my back.
    All the best...
    1853 days ago
    I can't ride a bike. I can't swim. And I'm not planning on registering for a triathalon so I figure life will go on just fine! I know you are not interested in running so you are not a triathlete candidate either, even if you master the bike riding.

    I tried as an adult. If trying as a teen counts as an adult, I tried twice as an adult. I actually got about the length of two houses before crashing into a parked car. I didn't try again for MANY years and the memory of crashing into the parked car probably kept me from success the second time of trying.

    It's not genetic in my case. My sister learned to ride at typical kiddo bike riding age. She inherited my tricycle and quickly wanted the next level up. I wasn't obese or overweight but I believed I was because I was bigger than my sister but that's another "damaged goods story" and not related to bike riding.

    I'm waiting to be old enough to ride the trikes for grownups like I've seen in Florida gated communities.
    Wow! That is an interesting technique! You go first.
    1853 days ago

    Comment edited on: 4/28/2013 11:27:54 PM
    Why not give it a try on a stationary bike? You can't get into too much trouble that way.
    1853 days ago
    I have a big problem with balance - inner ear issues as well as being generically klutzy.

    That said - I probably qualified as chubby as a child, versus obese - and I learned to ride a bike. I was okay with it. It helped when my mom bought me a Stingray bike for Chanukah one year - remember those? The tall handlebars, and the long and wide banana seat? Much more comfortable for a chubby tush, and I've always had back/neck/shoulders issues, so not leaning over forwards helped a lot.

    I also learned to cross country ski (as an adult) - though I'm really bad at downhill.

    And I'm absolutely terrible at windsurfing. I took a class one summer, tried and tried - all I managed to do was get really good at climbing back up on the board.

    But I'm really good at ballroom dancing, which has helped with my balance and coordination. Great activity for those of us who are balance-challenged!
    1853 days ago
  • MARYANN2323
    Bike riding, unlike other sports, baseball, soccer, swimming, was something I was mighty good at. Thankfully. Living on the outskirts of town, you needed a bike just to be part of anything. You excel at swimming, I sank like a rock. Not everyone is destined to be good at everything.
    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    If you think you would love to ride, try again. If not, why bother. Stick to what you love.
    1854 days ago
  • CANNIE50
    I can ride but it is not my go-to form of exercise, for sure. I prefer walking/running/hiking. It's a bit of a control issue, for me. I found myself wondering, because this is the first of your blogs I have written (but not the last, you have quite a gift for writing), when you are at the gym, are you drawn to spinning classes or stationary bikes? It probably sounds like a really dumb question, but I just wonder if you spent time doing that, then found someone you really trust to take you to a non-busy, paved trail to assist you with a little outdoor bicycling together, if you might at least be able to determine if riding a bike is even something you want to do? I am not a strong swimmer or bike rider and I have basically accepted this about myself. I just want to possess enough skill to engage in both on occasion but I don't foresee either becoming my primary form of exercise. Give me strength training and running or walking, any day. I look forward to reading more about your journey.
    PS That kindergartner who yelled that dumb, mean thing about you? Chances are, they could be heavier than you now. They may, too, remember that incident but for different reasons.
    1854 days ago
    I never learned to ride a bike. I think it's because my parents were over-protective. We lived in a big city. I was a chubby, indoor kid, who preferred to read and play the piano. I tried once as an adult and found it terrifying. I couldn't throw or catch a ball and hated any team sport. But like another commenter here, I was okay at things like swimming and dancing. My balance has never been very good but it has improved a lot in the last year or two through Pilates.

    I know a lot of people here on Spark enjoy a challenge and encourage each other to take on challenges, but I think you need to trust your gut feeling. My gut feeling about you is that you should concentrate on what you're good at and develop that, be it swimming, tennis, or whatever.
    1854 days ago
    I loved riding my bike as a kid, and really enjoyed taking it up again as an adult. After a number of no-biking years, I started again, and the neck positioning gives me migraines. This is even though I have a modified, I'm working with my doctor to fix what's wrong so I can ride again. I must say, that the no-bike years were directly related to my years of feeling too fat to ride.

    We are seeing the Giants host your Os in August!
    1854 days ago
    I earned the nickname "WATERMELLEN" based upon my rotundity (and love of watermelon, of course) -- but have to say, I was not impeded in learning to ride a bike by about age 4! Riding a bike was necessary to get everywhere I needed to go: school, swimming pool, library, Brownies . . . no choice no choice no choice. Mind you, I had the scabbed knees and elbows which attested to my persistence. One of our kids (the one who inherited my metabolism, sob sob) was a bit late in shedding the training wheels (6?) and the other leaner kid was riding a two wheeler at about 3.

    So . . . if you decide it's worth a try once again, who knows? Helmet. Knee pads. Elbow pads. Band-aids. Training wheels.

    I think that the central metaphor of raising kids is their launch from training wheels to no training wheels, with the parent racing frantically down the street behind them praying they won't crash but ready to pick up the pieces when (not if) they do. (Lean kid split his lip open quite dramatically because he'd mastered no training wheels before he mastered coaster brakes.)

    Terrifying? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely. Doesn't come to an end either . . . I'm still running!! Behind both of them . . . . .

    emoticon m emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1854 days ago
    It didn't stand in my way. It was one of the few things I could do as an overweight child. I had a 10-speed and I could ride with my friends and siblings most places (some hills were a bit difficult). I completely think you can do it.
    1854 days ago
    My balance totally SUX! I have inner ear issues, so I know the origins of the challenge! However, DO have faith! Maybe bike riding isn't your forte, and that's all right!!!

    You are not alone! I was in kindy in 1958 ( emoticon ) and was ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS the last one chosen throughout my academic career to be on ANY team for any participation because I just . . . plain . . . sucked! I did persevere however with gymnastics (which, interestingly, I AM good at) and swimming -- VERY good @ that. So, once I made those discoveries the rest was proverbial toast.

    You're coming into your season . . . enjoy the swimming.
    1854 days ago
    I wasn't obese. I learned to ride but never as well as my counterparts I experienced much of what you describe, I was targeted for other things, just not my weight you're right tho many of the feelings were the same and are just as vivid in hind sight.

    One of the hardest things I've had to do as a parent, is to ensure the decisions I make and how I help my children are not overshadowed by bullying I experienced as a child. To this day, most often my first instinctual fear is not will they get physically hurt, it's will they be emotionally hurt. I get worried about whether they'll be mercilessly teased or whether their best friends will break their trust and go over to the dark side.
    1854 days ago
  • KATHRYN1955
    I can remember "bigger kids" riding bikes with no problems, so I have no doubt that if you decided to give it a try, that you would do perfectly fine. It would only be past and present messages/expectations that would interfere. So start with a clean mental slate and "ride on."!!
    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1854 days ago
    I grew up in a NYC Housing Project. You weren't allowed to ride bikes on the premises and the street traffic was too dangerous for a kid on a bike. I taught myself at 23, when I moved to the suburbs in NJ. My prepared for a few falls. Going straight is easy. I fell a few times trying to turn on a narrow street. Now I'm a pro. But I don't do steep hills.
    have fun
    1854 days ago

    Comment edited on: 4/28/2013 9:15:50 AM
    For me, it didn't stand in the way. I think that because I was always obese, I didn't think about not being able to do things because of the weight. It was my normal. All of my friends and cousins rode bikes and there was no way I was staying home by myself so I don't think not learning was an option.

    I totally believe you can do it. The trick is to just do it and stay out of your head. If you think you will crash and burn - you will. ;)
    1854 days ago
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