The Bicycle Whisperer Proves It's Never too Late to Learn: Featuring the Bicycle Riding School

Once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. But if you never learned in the first place, that's another story. That's when you might decide it's time to check out the Bicycle Riding School, a place that teaches people of all ages how to ride.

Susan McLucas aka the bicycle whisperer and founder of the school, worked as a bicycle mechanic when she started teaching a few friends how to ride. She enjoyed it so much that she continued teaching people and eventually taught a class through the Learning Annex, then the Cambridge and Boston Centers for Adult Education. In 1998 she started teaching privately, beginning with five students the first year and gradually increasing each year.

June 2014 graduation for the Bicycle Riding School students.

"I can't remember when I started calling it the Bicycle Riding School," she said. "There was no formal opening. I just realized I was running a school and thought it would be cool to call it that. That was probably around 2000."

To date, about 2,500 people have learned how to ride at the Bicycle Riding School and the numbers are steadily growing. A second teacher, Pata Suyemoto, joined in 2007 and in addition to the group and individual classes, they've added intergenerational classes where parents and kids can learn to ride together.

McLucas's teaching method helps make it as easy as possible for people to learn how to ride for the first time: "The gist of it is to have a nice small bike with no pedals - get your balance first. Then add pedals and try to get it to go where you want. When you can do that, we go to the bike path. The reason it works is that it's broken down into parts you can concentrate on one at a time." (You can read more on the school's website here.)

Efrat, Maya, Chaitali, Puja, Susan McLucas, Laura and Olivia from an intergenerational class, summer 2014.

The school provides all students with knee pads, elbow pads, gloves and helmets, along with bikes that students can reach the ground flat-footed while sitting on the seat. Even with safety equipment, a tried-and-true formula and veteran teacher, learning to ride a bike as an adult can be challenging. Fear and embarrassment are the biggest issues.

"Some people are obsessed with the idea that people are looking at them and they take great comfort in the fact that thousands of people have done the same thing in the same spot over the last 25 plus years. Once people start to get their balance, they usually start to feel better about it," said McLucas.

One of the most common questions McLucas is asked is, "Do people fall a lot?" She says the answer is about one in four students, or fewer, fall during the lessons. Although it happens, most people don't fall and nobody is seriously hurt.

June 2011 graduation at Spy Pond.

Classes at the Bicycle Riding School are priced with a range, to accommodate sliding scale, discretionary pricing. "I would hate for anyone not to learn to ride because it costs too much," said the 65-year-old instructor. "I average toward the top of the scale, in spite of what a lot of people think. And this way people who don't have much money can learn like the others."

McLucas teaches full time, except in the winter. In the other seasons she often works 14-hour days, with 12-hour days the norm on weekends. She does this because so many people want to learn and she hates to make them wait.

"People come from Vancouver, Canada and all over the US, staying in town for a few days and doing a couple or three lessons a day - always going home delighted," said McLucas. "People tell me it changes their lives. People who haven't known how to bike feel really horrible about it and, once they learn, they feel nice and capable and normal. No more making up excuses or sitting on the bench while the family goes off biking together."

For more than 25 years, Susan McLucas has been teaching adults (and children!) to ride bicycles. Since then, thousands of people have enjoyed the exhilaration and liberation of this new way of life. She encourages anyone who doesn't know how to ride to contact her at (617) 776-6524. "They'll be so happy to learn and I'll be happy to teach them."

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