Ancient History

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A woman in my college dorm at CU did not know how to ride a bike. I thought it was highly bizarre and almost scandalous she never learned. I believed her parents failed her on some very deep level. They provided food, clothing, and shelter…but not the training to balance on a banana seat and two wheels with Hoyle playing cards stuck in the spokes.

She never knew the joy of loading a plastic basket slung over the handlebar with dandelions and an alarmed toad from the neighborhood duck pond. She never careened around a corner at the bottom of a heart-poundingly steep hill and felt her tires slip out from under her because of the algae in the gutter. Oh, the places she didn’t go, the shoelaces she didn’t wind in the gears, the lifetime scars from spectacular wipe-outs she can’t use as a conversational piece.

But, for the grace of God, will go my children.

Our former neighborhood was not bicycle friendly. The street was busy and there were always a lot of cars parked along the sidewalks. The idea of teaching wobbly young children to dodge cars both moving and parked genuinely scared hubby and I, so when the question of “when can we learn to ride our bikes?” came up, we always told them someday, when we moved.

We moved and now live in a much safer neighborhood to learn the art of bicycle riding. Unfortunately, our delay meant poor Aidan and Ryley have now passed the point of learning balance easily. There seems to be a window of opportunity between too young and too old and they are right on the border of being on the crotchety side. Plus they have enough life experience to know Crashing + Street + Elbows + Knees = Very Very Bad.

On Labor Day, the seven of us walked down to our neighborhood park, armed with knowledge culled from an article I found online, entitled How To Learn to Ride a Bike in 15 Minutes. Aidan, Ryley, and Sam walked with their helmets strapped on. They pushed their bikes. Everyone was ridiculously excited, including hubby and I. We were fulfilling an important part of our parental obligation, finally, and it felt good that within 15 or 20 minutes my kids would join the ranks of good balancers and circus dogs.

We got to the park and the hill especially picked out for the occasion. We helped the kids poise themselves on the top of the hill and gave them instructions. “GO!” we shouted. Tommy and Joel clapped their encouragement.

Nobody moved. All three of them looked down the hill, looked at each other, and looked at us. Hubby and I looked at each other. “Who’s going first?” I prodded, weakly.

It was too scary. We moved to a less frightening slope and tried again. This time, Sam was determined to go first. I ran alongside him down the hill and was impressed with his balance. Aidan and Ryley followed with hubby and I trotting alongside, but they had a much harder time balancing and were more fearful.

“15 minutes to Biking Fun” decayed into “90 minutes to Screaming, Crying, Frustration, Grass Stains, and Skid Marks”.

They were sincerely surprised they couldn’t simply sit on their bikes, pedal, and find themselves in Paris wearing a yellow jersey.

Despite comical bike riding demonstrations from hubby and I and pep talks that seemed lofty at the time but futile in retrospect, the point came when we realized they were too dejected to keep trying. We walked the bikes home. None of the kids have mentioned going out again. Their bikes are hanging by hooks in the garage like metallic and rubber catches of the day and I am starting to detect the iffy smell of regret.

We will try again, perhaps this weekend.

20 comments to Bikes

  • hamster

    Wow. I’m not questioning your methods, because I have no idea how to teach someone to ride a bicycle, but a hill strikes me as a scary place. I learned in our driveway, which was flat, with my dad running behind and holding the seat, and then letting go. That gave me the idea, and then lots of tries later on my own, I worked it out. It’s odd how fleeting those windows of opportunity are for certain things. We seem to have missed the window for teaching Josie to put her head underwater. She loves the pool, and being in it, but she doesn’t get that you need to hold your breath to put your head under. I guess this is instinctive when kids are really little.

  • Mom-of-mopsy

    You make bike riding sound like so much fun! Luckily, your accidents weren’t too frequent but I cringe upon hearing them and remembering the tears and scraps. Your sister was fearless in trying to keep up with you and had a few of her own mishaps. I’m sure they’ll want to keep trying, especially if Sam and Tommy get going. Their friends with bikes will spur them on. Things are never as easy as they seem, “15 minutes to learn to ride a bike”, ya right!

  • Tracy (tjly)

    You sadist! A hill???? I learned in my back yard! LOL! I’m sure they will get the hang of it with practice – maybe in a place with a softer spot for falls? LOL!

  • The other Gretchen

    Take heart, we also had a baaaad road for learning to ride on, so our kids had to learn on the grass in the back yard. The daredevil learned quickly, but our oldest is still not very good at it. He can balance and pedal now, but don’t put anything in his way LOL. He had a spectacular wipeout two years ago, too, and has been very over-cautious ever since. Hubby and I both spent many hours on our bikes as kids, because back then that was how you got to your friends’ houses. I remember riding my bike to 1st grade! My boys are much older than that already and I wouldn’t trust them to do that. *sigh* Maybe now in the new house they will get more practice and more confidence, and be willing to ride longer and farther. Poor Daddy dreams of the days when he can take the older boys out for a day of biking and exploring. That is still far off!

  • Mel

    One of my 12 year olds has just learned to ride. I am a delinquent mother! I learned to ride when I was young . . . and rode to California when I was 14 (a thousand miles). But life is different now and kids can’t ride randomly throughout town anymore.

  • They’ll get it!!! No worries. The joy when they take off on their own for the first time will be worth a few scrapes.

  • They will get it with practice, patience, a couple of tears and a few band-aids. Good luck with your next attempt!

  • Shayne

    I never learned to ride a bike either. And not for lack of trying. My parents gave me a bike for Christmas when I was 4. It was a pretty blue color and had a white basket on the front with yellow and blue daisies. I tried to learn to ride it until I was about 6 or 7, then finally gave up. Everyone found it quite bizarre that I could not balance on that thing, given that I was a pretty good ballet dancer and had been taking lessons since age 3. I guess it just wasn’t a talent I was gifted with!

    Despite my failings in the two-wheeler department, I have gone on to a relatively successful, productive and happy life. I’m sure your kids will catch on, but if they don’t, they won’t be warped. Looking forward to hearing about their next outing.

  • mopsy

    Shayne, I would say you are an example of how one can lead a successful, non-bike riding life, LOL. The woman at CU was studying to become an architect. She wasn’t warped. She regreted never learning, though, as everyone else zipped around on the official transportation of Boulder, Colorado—the mountainbike.

    When I picture all my childhood summers, my bike was always part of it. I rode all over the place, in the desert, to our local airport to visit the vending machines, and my happiest childhood birthdays were the ones I received a new bike (#8 and #13).

    I don’t want my kids to think we never bothered to teach them. Clearly, your parents tried and so did you.

    And it’s never too late…. 🙂

  • sister-of-mopsy

    biking riding is hard. but they will get it. do they have training wheels? maybe that would be a better place to start. that way they can at least get the how to peddle, break and put your foot down as to avoid from falling over part down, then the riding on just two wheels after the rest is just an after thought. less for them to process. I just took a bike ride a few days ago and at 31 still have accidents… it’s all part of the fun.

  • Ah…I’m having the same problems with my daughter. She seems to have missed the balance window of opportunity as well. And she’s terribly clumsy naturally…like her mamma.

    I too, am hoping that she will get it eventually.

    Beautiful blog, btw. I love the pictures in your header!

  • We are a biking family. My husband is a fanatic who races mountain bikes sometimes. I love my bike, although I avoid single-track and prefer street riding. Some of my best memories also take place on a bike. But Isaac, although he can do it, thanks to James’ insistence, doesn’t enjoy it. He has never really figured out that it can be fun. He grumbles every time we go for a ride. I have no idea why this is, because I remember bikes being SOOOO exciting. I wonder if there are just too many other “excitements” in his life for it to be to his taste? Is it going out of style with kids?

  • I love your writing! Our 6 year old had the same promise of when we moved (along with a whole batch of other promises) and she is the lone 6 year old on the block with training wheels. I think I don’t like windows.

  • Shayne

    LOL Mopsy. I sometimes have dreams about riding a bicycle. In my dreams, I can ride them effortlessly and I feel like I’m flying. I tried again to learn in high school, but again failed. At this point, I think it’s completely a psychological problem!

  • AmyP

    If you never learn to ride a bike, I wonder what it sounds like when people say, “You never forget — it’s just like riding a bike.” Hmmm…

    It’s one of those nonverbal, muscle-memory experiences where you just “get it” at some point. What a perfect metaphor for parenting… just running alongside, cheering them and holding the back of the bike seat until, at a moment completely out of your control, they suddenly get it and away they go…

  • Just last night, I got Jason to actually cycle his little bicycle with training wheels. Thankfully my eldest can ride a bike – no training wheels.
    I loved reading this 🙂

  • Teach them how to catch themselves when they fall. Talk about a life metaphor.

    I’ll have to write a longer expl. later…off to the grocery store. (Was just checking in 1st day after vacation.

    Thanks for making me smile, again!

  • Kathy

    Ahh, I can soo relate to this! I loved my bike and still do! DH & i went bike riding together as part of our anniversary “weekend” this month!

    Now for the advice,lol: You know my Tara has some serious neurological issues. Including a lot of sensory problems. She learned to ride a bike, something her Dad and I thought would never happen. She has really poor balance, and something called “motor planning deficit”, which i won’t get in to. What we did with her,*when we took her training wheels off” was we had her ride a little bit every day/every other day. Get on, ride for 30 seconds with us holding on. She’d scream and cry. She was soo afraid of falling. The next day, we’d do 45 seconds. The next day 1 minute. It was slow, slow slow. But it was enough for her to get over the anxiety, and actually LEARN TO balance. of course, later as she progressed she had to learn to stop, and steer and look forward, all over again (its as if she forgot once she got the training wheels off). She was 6 when she learned, and at age 7 3/4 she is an awesome bike rider!
    BTW, you are not crazy about the hill! I read that method too, and tried to use it on both DS, and Tara! It was a “gentle slope” you tried, right??!! lol!
    Good luck! Let me know if you have any questions!

  • mopsy

    Thank you, Kathy! We might try your method. It sounds more promising than the “gentle slope” method. There is no such thing as a gentle slope to a kiddo who is scared…

  • Dawn/LizzySue

    Elizabeth just mastered her 2-wheeler last week. She just had to decide it was time and that she wanted to do it more than her fear of falling. She did it on the neightbor’s bike. It is too small for her, but it gave her a tremendous sense of confidence that she could put her feet flat on the ground on it. She eventually has gotten use to her bigger bike, but still likes to know that her feet touch, comfortably. She learned in the church parking lot, with a little incline. Really not too much at all. My MIL was taught on a large hill too. Her sister set her up and pushed!! Good Luck to the kids!

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