They say you never forget how to ride a bike, unless you never learned in the first place.
That’s where Eddie Carmona — the borough’s only adult-focused “independent cycling instructor” — comes in.
With Prospect Park as his training ground, the bike mechanic–cum–cycling guru has taught dozens of grown-ups (so far, all of them women) to let go of their fears and grab onto the handlebars over the past five years.
Part coach, part accidental therapist, part professor of the street, Carmona uses a combination of old-fashioned pep talks, intuition and mind tricks to help his students overcome their fear of failure and embarrassment — concerns that only grow bigger with age.
“Kids are easy but it’s really mental for adults — they have a lot of fear,” said Carmona. “So I work on the mind first.”
Carmona said he often focuses on overcoming bike-related childhood scars, both literal and figurative.
In one case, a woman was desperate to learn to bike so she could keep up with her outdoorsy husband. She was in great shape physically, but her memories of learning to ride were semi-traumatic because of an incident with her dad as a kid.
“He didn’t have the patience,” Carmona said. “He told her she’d never learn, to give up and buy a car.”
So Carmona took the opposite approach: he worked with her, persistently, once a week for six months — first focusing balancing, then riding short distances, and eventually cruising around the length of the entire 3.35-mile Prospect Park roadway, he said.
According to researchers, only three percent of Americans say the main reason they don’t regularly ride bicycles in the summer is because they don’t know how — and in cycling-obsessed Brooklyn, finding an adult who can’t ride is like finding a two-headed bike helmet.
One of Carmona’s clients had managed to make it through living in the borough without biking, but she didn’t want to be the only two-wheel challenged girl in her college town.
Problem was, she had long ago smashed into a fence while learning to ride, wounding her face and her confidence.
To bust through those memories, Carmona pumped her full of positive reinforcement.
“You control the bike! You are the bike’s brain!” he’d shout — and her fear faded.
Most of his students, who pay $25 per hour, prefer to learn on low-riding bikes, such as fold-ups or BMXs, before moving to taller ones.
Carmona never uses training wheels, nor does he try the “I won’t let go” trick — used by sneaky parents around the world — saying instead that he prefers to let students find their own sense of gravity.
But he does use mind games to help students forget they’re scared.
“I’ll say, ‘Tell me about your husband.’ They start talking and all of a sudden they’ve ridden around the park and they don’t even realize it,” said Carmona, who works part-time Dixon’s Bicycle Shop, has the word “Brooklyn” tattooed on his upper arm, and is prone to passionate rants about obeying road rules.
Carmona has no website or storefront and relies instead on word of mouth and a stack of business cards to find customers, which also include kids in Park Slope.
A spokeswoman for the bike advocacy group League of American Cyclists, Carolyn Szczepanski, said Carmona isn’t the only adult-focused bike instructor in the country — but his approach is unconventional.
Many teachers take “licensed cycling instructor” courses, then register with the agency for credibility — although it’s not required, she said.
“Some people choose to take seminars; others build name recognition in their community,” she said.
For now, Carmona is happy with simple street cred.
“I always wanted to be a teacher and I’ve always loved bikes,” he said. “So this is kind of perfect.”
Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.