It was as easy as falling off a bike. Which is what Mary Jones promptly did.
"Oh oh oh oh," said Jones, a civil servant from Alexandria nearing retirement age, as she executed a slow-motion tumble across her suddenly horizontal ride. She stood up laughing, with three instructors already at her side.
But, unlike the time four of her brothers tried to teach her on the family's one bicycle back in the 1960s, this time Jones got right back on. She wants to learn to ride as a surprise gift to her "special friend," a gentleman about to retire from his own government job.
"I want us to go bicycling on all these beautiful trails around here," said Jones, pushing bravely off for another wobbly glide across the pavement.
Slowly, their tracks became straighter, their bodies more centered, their speeds something more languid than lurching. With each pass, they loosened their death grip on the handlebars and let their weight do the steering.
Student by student, instructors reattached the Shimano pedals. First just one, so the riders could get a feel for the "power stroke." And then both, allowing astonished grown-ups to ride properly, if shakily, round and round the playground.
"It feel like a childhood dream come true," exalted Krantz, one of the first to graduate to two pedals.
Krantz, a federal worker in Alexandria, came to a stop, planted his feet and recalled all the times in life he couldn't do this, like the time he had to take a van back to the hotel by himself while his college buddies went for a ride in Costa Rica.
"I've already texted everybody, my mom, my dad, my wife," Krantz said. "My sister told me not to text and ride."Tearful triumph
The instructors talk about the glow that comes over the faces of adults who finally break through, vanquishing a secret fear that has dogged them since grade school. Hoagland had a woman burst into tears the previous week at an Arlington class. Another student bought his training bike as soon the session was over.
"It's the best part of my job," Hoagland said.
Anthony Mansell, 25, a climate change activist who lives near U Street in Northwest Washington, grew up in a rural part of Wales where he never learned to ride.
"It's such an oddly good feeling," he said, beaming, as he pedaled slowly by. "It's not been fun to dread the day someone says 'Let's go on a bike ride.'"
Mansell plans to sign up for Capital Bikeshare, which allows users to check out bicycles from stations around the region. Several students mentioned the wildly popular program (it passed 4 million rides earlier this week), as well as other spokes of the bicycle boom that has enveloped Washington in the past decade. The District has gone from three miles of dedicated bike lanes in 2001 to 56 miles today. The percentage of workers commuting by bike has tripled in that time.
"I've really envied people who could just jump on a bicycle and go," said Kamara, the accountant, who was now doing just that.
When it was Chris's turn to take off with both pedals, he took a deep breath, said, "Let's do this," and pushed off.
And away he went, riding a bike, just like everybody else.
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