Ottawa·Point of View

How COVID-19 made me grab life by the handlebars

Most people learn to ride a bike around the age of five, but Alexandra MacEachern learned at 33. This is her story about taking a risk during the pandemic.

At 33, Alexandra MacEachern finally decided to let go of her fears and learn to ride a bike

Why, at age 33, I learned to ride a bike

2 years ago
Duration 2:34
Alexandra MacEachern explains how the pandemic led to her to confront the fear that's stopped her from pushing off for over 25 years.

Most people learn to ride a bike around age five, but I learned at 33. I'm proud because I've been afraid of learning ever since I was little.

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I didn't learn when my friends did because my folks got divorced and I was such a handful for my parents, learning to ride a bike just fell through the cracks. 

I also broke my arm when I was eight and it never healed properly. That gave me an excuse to never face this fear and get out of all feats of athleticism. I played that card more than once.

It took a pandemic for Alexandra MacEachern to finally get on that bike. She's 33. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

In some ways, my fear was logical — a lot of people get hit by cars and get seriously injured, children scrape their knees, people chip their teeth. But for me, the fear was more vague and amorphous.

Riding a bike was just this thing I had convinced myself I could never do and never attempt because it was just impossible.

My family is French from France and so much of what they do is on va en velo — to go to the bakery, butcher shop or beach. And I couldn't do that.

Growing up, I had girlfriends who said, "Let's ride a bike to a picnic." I had to say, "I guess I'll walk or something?"

MacEachern enlisted the help of her big brother Lauchlin to learn to ride a bike. They went to the grounds of her old high school in downtown Ottawa. (Submitted by Alexandra MacEchearn)

I also had boyfriends who would want to go for a ride and I'd have to admit that I don't know how — and if we wanted to I would need training wheels, and I don't know that they make those for adults. So it's come up a few times over the years.

I got my current bike as a present for my 30th birthday. It was a sweet gift from an ex-boyfriend who said he thought I could conquer this fear. 

It sat for three years, and shortly after my 33rd — which happened during COVID — I was thinking a lot about what COVID means and how it shows you how precious and fragile life is. It felt like a great time to confront my fear.

So I told my big bro, who's been trying to teach me for years. He was really gung-ho, and we went out to get it done.


We went to a place with no cars and little traffic — the grounds of my old high school. My brother admitted he didn't know what he was doing and hadn't watched any tutorials, but he said, "Sit on the bike, walk with your feet, then start to pedal."

He held the handlebars and the seat. Then at one point he said, "You know, Alex, I'm not doing anything." I was like, "That's not true."

He said, "No, you got this and it only took 10 minutes."

I checked off this thing that's been on my bucket list for 25 years, and that's a big deal.- Alexandra MacEchearn

That's the worst part of this story — that I was able to learn so quickly once I confronted that fear.

But I was really proud. I actually did this thing. I challenged myself and I did it.

The interesting thing is that there were people around who were watching this grown woman learning to ride a bike for the first time — and they were all smiling. Because it's rickety and awkward, but they could see I was having a good time.

MacEachern says the embarrassing thing is once she started, it only took 10 minutes to learn to ride her bike. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

I posted about it on social media afterward. A lot of people said congratulations and also shared their stories of learning to ride a bike at 45, or learning to drive later in life. 

I would love to think it inspired someone else to try something they otherwise wouldn't have done.

It turns out, I like bike riding. It's still hard, and it still scares me and I have some anxiety going out that I'll fall or dent a car or run into an old lady or do something horrible.

But I have to admit, riding up and down the parkway in the evening is an absolute delight. I start to pick up speed and have some self-confidence and it's exciting.

MacEachern says now that she's mastered two wheels, she might learn to drive a car next. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Now, for the first time I can bike to get an ice cream or a beer. There's a lot to look forward to. 

Coronavirus is terrible, quarantine is no fun, but it can offer some different perspectives. There are ways to turn those negatives into positives, and challenging our underlying fears is one of them.

I checked off this thing that's been on my bucket list for 25 years, and that's a big deal.

What else can I tackle?

Alexandra MacEachern is chief of staff to the CEO of the Canadian Digital Service, a division of Treasury Board, in Ottawa. Up next, she's planning to learn to drive. 

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