Arts & Life
3:08 am
Sun December 29, 2013

Winging It: Biking Around Again In Margaritaville

Originally published on Mon December 30, 2013 9:53 am

I love Key West, and I go there as often as possible: pina coladas, drag queens, shady hammocks, feral chickens — it's the best. There's just one problem: everyone gets around the island by bike, and I've never learned to ride one. Obviously that had to change.

Why didn't I learn? I really don't remember, and neither did my mom, when I asked her about the one time my parents tried to teach me. "You got on a big bicycle that was so big you couldn't really turn the wheels and got discouraged."

I've tried to learn a few times since then — particularly after I discovered Key West. It's never really worked, though, so this summer I decided to get serious, and take an adult learn-to-ride class from the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

I was not alone. At least twenty people showed up to the class, and WABA's Dan Hoagland told me there were dozens more on the waiting list.

Hoagland was an effective drill sergeant and cheerleader for us as we wobbled around the parking lot.

"There are three steps to learning to ride a bicycle," he told me. "The first and most important is to find your balance."

That was not as easy as he made it sound. I ended up kicking and pushing, kicking and pushing until I could glide across the parking lot without falling over. The instructors take the pedals off the bikes at first — only when you can glide do you earn your pedals back.

Eventually, I managed to pedal across the lot on my own. Okay, so about five minutes after that I got cocky and fell right on my face. But still. For that brief moment, I was riding a bike. I was ready for Key West.

Like I said, everyone rides bikes here — all the guest houses have ranks of brightly painted beaters out front that you can rent. Last year, I couldn't do it — I was forced to tool around in a little electric golf cart.

So I rented an adorable old bike painted all over with tentacle-waving sea creatures, and I promised myself that this year would be different. And it was. I got up on my tentacle-bike and rode right down the street past my guest house — okay, so I panicked about the traffic and didn't get all that far. But I did it.

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Transcript

JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:

OK. Well, NPR's Petra Mayer is no Lance Armstrong. As a matter of fact, she never learned how to ride a bike - and that's a problem when she visits Key West, where biking is the best way to get around the island.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUDDEN: So, for Winging It, our regular travel segment, Petra attempted to acquire this new skill.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah - I can't ride a bike. I can't whistle either. It's practically un-American. So, how come I never learned?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I don't really know.

MAYER: That's my mom, and I should say, my parents did try to teach me when I was around 9 or so.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: You got on a big bicycle that was so big that you couldn't really turn the wheels and got discouraged.

MAYER: And I've tried to learn a few times since then, particularly after I discovered Key West. It's never really worked, though, so this summer I decided to get serious.

DAN HOAGLAND: My name is Dan Hoaglund, I work for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and I'm here today to teach you how to learn to ride.

MAYER: There are at least 20 people here today, in this suburban parking lot - and dozens more on the waiting list. I am not alone.

HOAGLAND: There are three steps to learning to ride a bicycle. The first and most important is to find your balance.

MAYER: Find your balance, he says. Sounds easy. Like, oh, there's my balance. I left it on the hall table. No. What that actually means is, they give me a bike with no pedals on it, and I have to coast up and down the parking lot until I can do it without falling over. Brakes - I have them. It's probably good to remember that. I'm going to kick across the parking lot one more time and attempt to glide. And if I do this well, then I get a pedal, which is very exciting. Spoiler alert: I did earn my pedals. OK. Here we go.

HOAGLAND: Good. Now, move your feet.

MAYER: I am so pedaling. Holy crud.

(LAUGHTER)

MAYER: Whoa. Look at me. OK. So, about five minutes after that I got cocky and fell on my face. But still, for that brief moment, I was riding a bike. I was ready for Key West.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MAYER: You think Jimmy Buffett's just exaggerating, but really, he's not. It actually is that laid back. And everyone rides bikes here. All the guesthouses have ranks of brightly painted beaters out front that you can rent. Last year, I couldn't do it. I was forced to tool around in a little electric golf cart. This year is going to be different. So, here we are in front of the Eden House in Key West. I have a very adorable bike. It's blue and painted with tentacly(ph) sea creatures. All these lovely, laid-back people aren't going to mind that, A, I'm talking to myself, and, B, I'm going to look like a total dweeb in about five minutes when I get on this bike. Not that looking like a dweeb has ever really stopped me. OK. I'm doing this. I am pedaling down Fleming Street in the middle of traffic, but here I go. The wind is in my hair.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

MAYER: Got a little bell to ring. It's all good.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

MAYER: Petra Mayer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LUDDEN: You can see proof of Petra's pedaling at our website, npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.