Adult learning has an odd place in our society. There are certain things in life—reading, writing, wrapping a blunt, talking to the opposite sex without the aid of said blunt/a pre-written script—that you have to be able to do by the time you leave school or real adults will shun you as an embarrassing and shameful half-human.
The authorities try to cajole us the best they can, but they can't stop every orphan of common sense falling through the gaps. So when my friend (and VICE UK writer) Clive told me that, despite being a grown man, he couldn’t ride a bike, I decided to step in and help him (by embarrassing him in this blog post).
I was moved by his tale of biking failure. His father—Clive told me in a moment of tearful, drunken honesty—was an “impatient cockney,” who had quickly tired of teaching the young Clive as soon as his younger brother had won the fraternal race-off to master stabilizers.
There comes an age where it suddenly seems unacceptable to still be learning how to cycle and Clive reached that age and decided it didn’t matter. He could still walk, after all, and was making excellent progress on rollerblades. So cycling was put to one side. The world could wait.
Not any more. With rollerblading even less socially acceptable than it was 15 years ago, it was time for Clive to feel two wheels beneath him and the wind in his hair.
We headed to Weavers Fields in Bethnal Green, London. On the way, we found another learner. We tried to stage a race for you to laugh at, but it's hard to make pictures of a man "cycling" three inches at a time before having to put his leg down on the floor to stabilize himself seem interesting.
If you wanna play the part, you’ve gotta look the part. I was hoping these cycling shorts and this padded top designed for Taekwondo would allow my pupil to win the mental battle before the physical one had even begun. Or maybe it just made him look like a lesbian suicide bomber, IDK.
A pupil needs to trust his teacher. He needs to know his teacher is the shit at what he’s teaching. And look at me—I am the shit. When it comes to cycling, you ain’t got nothing on me. But then I hit a literal and metaphorical bump in the road. This knocked Clive’s confidence. He’d realized his hero was fallible and that spooked him, like a dog who'd just seen his master stub his toe.
It was time to saddle up. Keen not to send Clive hurtling to the ground or to see him engulfed in flames, I opted to hold the bike at the front and kind of moonwalk backwards, gaining pace until he was ready to be released like the bird I had to believe he was.
It seemed to be bearing fruit. Clive, an adult now, had spent years watching people glide past him on bikes, and was putting these observations to good use. I looked into his eyes. He looked into mine. I told him he was safe. I told him that, even if I let him go, I wouldn’t really be letting him go, because I’d be right there with him.
Oh, what dreams may come! The boy had become a man. The apprentice had become the master. The tadpole had become the frog. Clive was cycling. Clive told me he felt “liberated,” that a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders and that, as he propelled himself across the grass, he had felt a happiness he'd never before felt.
Clive had mastered the sturdy three-gear, basket bike. But this is East London and our boy didn't want to be a square, he wanted to fit in with the fixed-wheel crowd. When it comes to cycling, I’m a frightened conservative. You’ll never see me in clip-on shoes, hanging out in cafes that are also bike shops with couriers who can cycle across London in six minutes and have tattoos of Allen keys on their arms. So I brought in VICE UK fashion guru and fixie aficionado Sam Voulters to dress Clive and get him impressing on a real hepcat's bike. At first, he struggled. But after some teething problems he was off and running again. Unbelievable. I created a monster. He was bragging about all the bitches his hot new thighs were gonna knab him and all the drivers he'd be able to sue. It was time to cut him down to size.
In my role as teacher, it was my duty to teach Clive that pride always comes before a fall. I did this with the aid of a tree. If you ever go to Weavers Fields in London, it's the one with the "ghost bike" chained to it.