Biplabi Shrestha speaks about her journey of learning cycling at 34 in a society that discouraged girls from cycling, an empowering and refreshing experience.
At 34, I finally learnt to cycle. Until then, I had only imagined and dreamt of it. I was convinced that it was almost impossible to balance the two wheels while you busy your legs paddling; that it required a super skill that boys and only some lucky girls are born with; that it is a skill that others can master but me.
A vivid memory of a fall while learning to cycle as a child always kept me from getting back on wheels. The pain of the fall was such a nightmare that it kept discouraging me to rise from it. After almost 25 years, one fine Saturday afternoon I finally learnt to balance the wheels and paddle at the same time.
There are multiple forces that brought me back on the wheels. As a child it did not matter much as it was considered more of a boys’ activity. No one ever discouraged but no one really encouraged too. For a girl not knowing how to ride a cycle does not bring as much a shame as not knowing how to cook and clean.
Oh yes! and I was constantly criticized for not excelling in my skills on household chores. I was and am content with the basics I knew to survive.
However, the less shame factor did not stop me from feeling guilty of not trying harder to learn this important skill of cycling. Every girl that I saw cycling kept my hope alive. And I saw many of them especially in Terai (plain lands) in Nepal and lately in countries where cycling is common for women. These women fascinated me, bringing me to a point that I took learning to cycle as a challenge to myself.
But procrastination kept winning as the fear of failure did not stop lurking around my mind space. I thought I was too faint-hearted to get myself back to the risk of falling, too fragile to fall and too weak to try. That fine Saturday proved it all wrong. Fear and nervousness are real, I knew, but if I really DREAM something, determined to realize it, and work for it, I can conquer a mountain regardless of its height and dangers involved.
My source of strength came in the form of a friend who encouraged me to get back on wheels again, after 25 years. Her non-judgemental attitude towards my inability in something that is almost unheard of people for my age, her insistence on my trying again, and her commitment to help me learn it at even this late stage pushed me to pursue the challenge.
I now cycle regularly. Riding a bicycle has liberated me in ways that are difficult to explain. It is empowering to be able to have mastered this skill that once was limited to a dream. It is empowering to have this control in life. No wonder there are conservatives in power in certain countries who ban cycling and driving for women to restrict their mobility, to control their independence and keep women subservient in all possible ways. The one I recently heard was of the ultra-orthodox Jewish leaders banning girls from riding bi-cycles citing that it was immoral and provocative.
Even in places where it is not banned, cycling is discouraged for women and girls. A friend based in a war torn country for humanitarian assistance complained she feels conscious about riding a cycle as she has not seen a single woman doing so on the streets that is common for men.
Such discouragements often times come in various forms. I experienced a pinch of it too when I took the bike to street for the first time. If I were to vanish by the number of stares, honks and catcalls, that one ride would have done it all.
Now that I have started, nothing will stop me. Every moment on wheels feels more real than anything else. With cycling, I am living a part of my childhood that I have always regretted missing; the excitement of learning something new, being free of worrying thoughts, enjoying the moment and being oneself. However, age did not matter. It still feels as heavenly and magical as I would have felt as a child.
Cycling is indeed my new found passion that is only growing in its intensity every day. It is allowing me the experience that is beyond beautiful and is incomparable. Staying outdoors for each ride made me appreciate more of what nature has to offer; cooling sun, sight of changing landscape, beautiful sunshine after rain, flapping breeze that I specially enjoy while riding downhill, the scent of the breeze and the time I spend with myself. I feel anew and rejuvenated when I am on wheels. The most beautiful part of it all is that this ecstasy comes with no cost to the environment. It is the most guilt free fun ride that contributes zero percent to environmental degradation. I wish roads everywhere were cycle friendly with proper cycling lanes and that there was more respect for female cyclists.
Since the time I have discovered my ability to cycle, I have abandoned the ‘luxury’ of getting bored. My mind is no more clogged with thoughts that are not constructive. With this, I have grown more to admire little blessings in life and at the same time I have also learnt to let go of things. Furthermore, it is also enhancing my ability to accept things that is not so easy and relinquish those that might be temporarily comforting.
With cycling, I am discovering more in me; my strength, perseverance, love for simplicity, excitement, appreciation of little things in life and gratitude. In all this I have learnt that I can rise from any fall if I put my heart and mind into it. This rediscovery of the self is refreshing, enriching and empowering.
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Images source: Biplabi Shrestha