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Backstory: Finding midlife balance – on two wheels

From Harvard scholar to Caribbean islander, many adults share an embarrassing secret: They can't ride a bike.

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Tucked away behind a three-story house on a quiet street here is a big red barn filled with bicycles, bicycle tires, helmets, knee and elbow pads, and lots and lots of bicycle parts. This is the home of the Bicycle Riding School where, for more than 20 years, Susan McLucas has taught nearly 2,000 adults how to ride a bicycle.

On a golden Indian summer day last month, seven students, ages 24 to 56, meet for the first of four Sunday sessions in front of Ms. McLucas's barn, each nervous and self-conscious. Cycling, for most, is a skill learned in childhood and never forgotten. But cycling eludes people for various reasons – a fear-inducing fall at an early age is a common one – and for many who never learned to ride, there's a secret shame.

When friends invite Janaki Thomas to join them riding on Cape Cod, she has always had an excuse, but she never shared the real reason – that she didn't know how.

The composition of this group is typical of her classes, says McLucas: six women and one man, four were born abroad.

In Ms. Thomas's Caribbean homeland of Dominica, bike riding was frowned upon for girls. "It wasn't considered ladylike," says Thomas.

For Dee Smith a native of St. Lucia, a similar bias prevailed.

Smith is clear evidence of what might be called The Lance Effect: a surge in interest in cycling spawned by seven-time Tour de France champion, Lance Armstrong. "When I saw Lance Armstrong pedaling down the Champs d'Elysées after winning the Tour," says Smith, "I just wanted to learn to ride."

She also admired Mr. Armstrong for overcoming cancer to become a world champion.

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