It’s Not About The Bike. (Well, Maybe A Little.)

Cycling is on everyone’s minds this week and though I don’t feel the need or desire to use any of my real estate here on Suburban Scrawl to share my opinion about he-who-shall-not-be-named, I have been thinking about bikes and thought I’d tell you about one very special bicycle.

When D was about six, we decided it was time to purchase a bike for him. Jim’s main hobby has been cycling for, well, forever, and even though we weren’t about to spend the money to get a top-of-the-line bike for our kid who would outgrow it before the payment was even a memory, we certainly spent some time in the specialty bike shops before we settled on a selection from a big box store down the street. Jim put the training wheels on it and we were ready to go.

D, like most kids with new bikes, loved riding that thing up and down the sidewalk. Eventually–I can’t remember how much time passed by but I know that most of his friends had already passed the milestone–it was time to get the training wheels off and teach him how to ride on two wheels. Jim spent hours and hours with him, jogging behind the bike and holding onto it so he wouldn’t topple over, trying to teach him to make the minor adjustments in balance that were required to stay upright.

It wasn’t happening. At all.

Training sessions would end with Jim being completely frustrated and D being the same. Sometimes there were tears. Eventually, Jim asked me if I would take over because he didn’t feel like their personalities were a good match in that particular situation and wanted to spare both of them further frustration. This scenario, by the way, was also put into play when it was time to teach D how to drive a car, and has been used in the reverse direction too, when I felt like Jim would be a better match in handling other parental areas. Teamwork!

So, I took over bicycle training and–GOSH!–I hated running after that bike. It wasn’t working, anyway. I had to figure out Plan B.

After speaking with a few friends, it occurred to me that there were two problems. D being afraid of falling was the main issue, and his fear was making him freeze up instead of being able to move his body for balance. The other issue was the location of our practice. A flat (and hard!) sidewalk doesn’t cut it when you’re dealing with a scared kid.

I ended up taking him to our elementary school, where the expansive, grassy play area in back was on a slant. We took the bicycle to the top of the slight hill, and though I held the bike steady while he got on, I let go as I gently pushed him forward. I shouted “Pedal! Pedal!” and after falling on the soft grass only two or three times, he was suddenly…riding.

I will never forget that day when we all learned a little bit about persistence and switching to Plan B when Plan A isn’t working. D and I were triumphant, grinning from ear to ear as he finally got the hang of that bicycle, and rushing home to share the news with Jim was a big moment for our boy.

As kids tend to do, D grew too big for the bike, and it was handed down to his brother when we bought him a bigger one. J learned how to ride very quickly and put lots of miles on the bike, doing laps around the block. Eventually, J grew too big for the bike, too. After letting it hang on the hook in the garage for months, untouched, Jim said, “We should really get rid of that bike and make some space.” I cringed as I always do when it comes to getting rid of sentimental things, but agreed and, since we didn’t know anyone who might have a use for it, we decided to put it out at the curb with our trash. Our neighborhood sometimes gets treasure hunters who drive pickup trucks around on the night before trash pickup, and we figured someone would take it and give it to another little boy who might need to learn the basics of riding a bicycle.

The bike wasn’t out there for an hour before Jim and I found ourselves staring at it through the bay window, talking about how pitiful it looked. He said, “Maybe we don’t want to get rid of it just yet.”

“Oh, good! You’re right: we don’t!” I exclaimed, and he went to retrieve it, hanging it up in its rightful place in the corner on my side of the garage.

That bike is still there, after all these years. I see it every single day when I get into–and out of–my car, and every day I’m reminded of that jubilant little boy who had just learned one (or two) of life’s greatest lessons.