Getting a Handle On Things: A Team #SomeNerve Update

When Patty Chang Anker found herself in her 40s and still afraid of heights, water, and biking, she decided to do something about it. In her book Some Nerve: Lessons Learned While Becoming Brave, Patty recounts how she faced down myriad fears and and how everyone can become braver, happier and stronger by facing theirs. Oprah.com called her journey “downright inspiring.”


Now’s your chance to join Patty on her #SomeNerve Challenge: training for the 2014 TD Five Boro Bike Tour. Check back here every month to read about her progress, follow her on Twitter @PattyChangAnker, and see what else she’s up to on her blog, Facing Forty Upside Down. This is her second entry. Click here to read her first.


It’s really happening. After inviting you all to join Team #SomeNerve for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, 21 brave bicyclists (and bicyclists-to-be, like me) have signed up so far! Our team ranges from raw beginners to Five Boro aficionados, from our mid-20s to mid-50s in age. Some are old friends from as far as Chicago, others I’ve yet to meet – one heard me on Martha Stewart Living Radio, another found out about the team through her book club reading Some Nerve.


Reasons people have given for joining the ride include: fun, fitness, to see different neighborhoods across New York City, to encourage others to bike, to accomplish something, to not become a “stodgy non-athletic middle aged person,’ and “to watch Patty Chang Anker ride the streets of NYC on a bike.”


Well. If people are joining in order to see me ride a bike (guaranteed entertainment), then I’ve got some training to do! I took Bike New York’s introductory Learn to Ride class a year and a half ago. Read about that heart-pounding experience here.  The next level: Bicycling Basics.


I took the tram to Roosevelt Island’s Sportspark for the Adult Bicycling Basics class last week. It was a cold January day; I wore sweatpants over my brand new bike shorts. Honestly, I felt silly in the shorts – like an imposter. Only really good cyclists wear the gear, right? “It’s a 3-hour class; your butt is going to hurt. Wear the shorts,” my husband said. He’s always been the sensible one.


The indoor gym where the class takes place had padded walls, as if expecting me. The first thing I did was knock over a bike. I hadn’t even gotten on a bike and I brought one to the ground. Nerves!


Luckily the instructor, a very calm woman named Marilyn, got us all focused on putting on helmets and adjusting our own seats. “This isn’t Learn to Ride,” she said. “I want you to start doing things for yourself. What are the ABCs you need to check?”


I pulled out a notebook. I like taking notes. There were about 12 of us in the class; those who’d taken Learn to Ride just days before remembered easily and chimed in: “Air,” “Brakes,” “Chain.”


Checking the air in the tires.

Checking tires for air.


I like the standing on solid ground and learning part.


"Could you please review what you just said?"

“Could you please repeat what you just said?”


But then it was time to put the pen and paper away and get on our bikes.


Start your engines!

“Start your engines!”


It’s like riding a bike, right? Piece of cake, right? The only obstacles in the large gym were the soccer goals.  Guess where I went?


Of course.

Of course.


We were riding in a large circle to the left. Watching people in various stages of stopping, starting, veering, and crashing made it quite tempting to just stay in the net. Snatches of conversation as students went by:


“I just took Learn to Ride last week! But I feel like my body remembers nothing!”


“I’m too old for this.” (I later found out the guy is 30. Pshaw!)


“I saw you go down – did it hurt?”


“No, I’m fine.”


It was a bumpy start. I remembered it from Learn to Ride. It’s disorienting to get out of your element, to balance on a moving object if you’re not used to it, to control your speed and react to other bicyclists in your way. But I remembered something else: it gets better. If you go back out for more.


Back into the fray...

Back into the fray…


For me, turning the corners was hard, as was holding a straight line. Hm. That kind of covers everything.





Marilyn kept upping the ante, asking us to “scan” (i.e. turn to look behind us quickly for the number of fingers the assistant was holding up)…


"3! No, 4! Dang it!"

“3! No, 4! Dang it!”


…and then take one hand off the handlebar (i.e. release the deathgrip) and give a teacher a high-five in order to learn how to hold your arm out to signal a turn. I was holding on so tightly it felt impossible to let go.


A steady stream of praise from the assistants - "You can do it, Patty, Breathe; you’re okay. Good job! - helps.

A steady stream of praise from the assistants – “You can do it, Patty, Breathe; you’re okay. Good job! – helps.





I didn’t really get the hang of turn signals; when I held out my arm for 2 of the 3 seconds I would lose my balance every time. But what I did notice was this: I was biking. Everything that seemed difficult at Learn to Ride – balancing, pedaling, shifting gears, braking – I was doing without thinking. By the end of the 3-hour class, I was turning with control, adjusting my speed to match that of all the riders around me, and even riding between the red cones instead of hitting them head on.  My bike shorts felt broken in and well-earned; I’m a bicyclist now, after all.





Everyone was smiling.  As we left class, I asked some of the students what their hopes were, and one said that he wants to join his friends when they bike and not be left behind. Another wants to use Citi Bikes. The 30-year-old left saying perhaps he too could ride the TD Five Boro Bike Tour. In my research for Some Nerve, a fear of biking was a recurring concern. It’s worth facing your fear of discomfort, crashing, and looking dumb, if you have a worthy goal – like joining in the fun.


What about you? Will you join me at an upcoming Bike New York class? (The next Bicycling Basics class is on 2/27 at 11AM at the Roosevelt Island Sportspark; click here to register). Will you join Team #SomeNerve on May 4? I can’t wait to see you there.


Click here to read Patty’s first post about training for the TD Five Boro Bike Tour.