Monday, March 16, 2015


Bicycles.  They are the ultimate reflection of an American childhood.  The joy, the pain.  The struggle, the freedom.  When I was a kid we all had similar bikes.  We started with the banana seat bike with one gear, and rode that thing until it almost fell apart.  We would swap bikes, crash bikes, forget our bikes, and occasionally have them run over by the station wagon.  I grew up in a flat city, so the whole place was open to me from the beginning.  I am pretty sure I rode my bike to first grade, and beyond.  Summer was the ultimate bike time.  We would meet in gangs and ride around for hours.  To the park, to the pool, and to the store for nickle candy.  When I got big enough I got to ride my mom's three speed.  Wow!  My dad had a FIVE speed, but I was never tall enough with that darn top bar in the way.  As a teen I begged and begged, and finally got a new-fangled 10 speed.  Life was good. 

Unconsciously, when I had my own kid, I was expecting bicycles.  Sure, times had changed and banana seat bikes not longer ruled the driveways, but kids still ruled on bicycles.  I saw it with my friends kids, and around the neighborhood. I had my expectations, and then life happened.

Easy bike riding was not in the cards.  Alex got his tricycle at about the same time as other kids, except he would not go near it.  Flat refusal.  Other kids were laughing, riding, zooming.  This did not sway him.  For months and seasons we tried everything.  No go.  Or, shall I say, slow go.  Eventually  he came round.  Eventually he totally loved his tricycle.  He rode that thing long past the time other kids had graduated to bikes.  And he had a bike.  A cute one just his size with training wheels and all.  Plus he had rode since near birth behind his dad's bike in trailers of all kinds.  Yet he had no desire to bike on his own.  He rode his tricycle, or nothing.  His bike sat, and he outgrew it.  He got another one.  He ignored this too.  We got him a tag-along when he outgrew the trailers, and he could ride behind his dad.  Quite the strong legs too, and he loved the down hills.  But he refused to ride on his own.  We would bribe him.  Take him to a nice parking lot, with cones to aim at, and cookies to earn.  He would ride for a minute, or two.  Then be done.  He outgrew his tricycle.  But the bicycle with training wheels was just too much.  Too much balance.  Too much to add steering, and braking, and coordinating what to do when the speed ran out and you had to put your feet down.

You see, a bicycle is mindbogglingly complex.  A lot like life.  And he was not on the time-table of "all the other kids".  In my rational mind I knew that not ALL the other kids had mastered the bicycle years before.  But in my heart it felt like it.  When he was eight, and most of the other kids were old pros at the bike, it left me sad.  Isolated.  And defeated.  It was not fair.  How come all the other kids got it.  Or, more importantly, how come my kid didn't.  Of course it was me who was off track.  Asking the wrong question.  It wasn't about the other kids.  It wasn't about Alex.  It wasn't even about me.  It was about life.  One of the many ups and downs of life that take us along for the ride.  My husband and I took a new tack with the bicycle thing.  We got Alex a balance bike.

We decided the key issue in biking was balance that he could control.  On a tricycle, or a tag along, or even a bike with training wheels, you never really had to balance.  And balance was what Alex lacked.  If he was ever to ride a "real" bike, we had to help him develop that balance.  They make balance bikes for 18 month olds, as a first step towards super early biking.  Well, we had missed that window, but we followed the idea and used regular bicycles stripped of pedals and gearing.  And it worked.  He thought it was fun.  You keep the seat real low and move the bike by running it, then lift your feet when it's going good.  He got it.  He didn't exactly love it, or go and do it on his own, but he would be game any time we required him to do it.  Somewhere in there we bought a scooter too, but that was even less interesting for him.  So we used it as a choice, "We are heading to the bike path, you can use the scooter or your balance bike....".  I guess it had a use as the worse alternative.

And that is where we stood for the last two summers.  Balance biking around.  Even heading out to the trails from time to time.  Last fall Kevin hit on the perfect bike to move up to.  BMX.  One gear, to alleviate complication.  One hand brake, for the same reason.  And a solid construction that can go anywhere.  He searched around and found a used bike.  Then he worked on getting the right components.  By the time it was mostly perfected, the snow had come.

Now it is spring.  Yesterday was the day to see where we were at.  With nervous stomachs and hopeful hearts we took Alex down to a huge flat parking lot near Lake Superior.  He did not argue.  There were no tears.  He was resigned, and willing.  Kevin got him going, holding the back of the bike like millions upon millions of parent before him.  Running along, holding him up, until he was not holding up anymore, and then he was not even holding him.  Alex was off, faster than Kevin could run, going for the far side of the lot.  Turning on his own, controlling his speed, staying away from the few parked cars.  Balancing.  Balancing and pedaling.  Looking and planning, coming around to us, and going out again.  It was a beautiful thing. 

Keep your eye out for us.  We will be biking.  Getting that balance locked in.  Working on starts and stops.  Trying out different terrain.  Learning about falling, and hopefully getting up again.  Moving at our own speed, and doing our best to enjoy the ride along the way.

Biking, I think we finally gotcha. 

Peace out-  Beth


Granddad Bruce said...

What a wonderful tale Beth as Alex gained confidence in himself through your and Kevin's plan. Well done and congratulations to Alex above all for trying it and finding that he likes it.

Beth Up North said...

Thanks Granddad. He is just the best kiddo!