Wednesday, February 16, 2005

bike training your kids

Only when I started cycling as an adult did I fully understand how great a job my parents (my dad, really) did 'bike training' me. Yes, like potty training but on a bike.


My early cycling memories are all about the red tricycle. It was so rad and metal-y and chrome-y and had one of those steps on the back. I think it was an American Flyer. I hope my parents have it for uh, the FUTURE. (Not that my mom knows this blog exists, but if she did, she'd enlist you, kind reader(s?), to urge me to procreate immediately so she won't be so (in her words) "grandchild deprived.") Anyway, to recap, I was perfectly content zooming 'round and 'round the back of the driveway.


Yes, I'm a child of the '70's. I had another red bike. this time a two wheeler with a white banana seat decorated with pastel flowers. No training wheels on this puppy. Shoot, no helmet in those days, either!

This is where the real training took place. My dad and I would go on rides down the street to the cul de sac where my grandma lived and then back up the hill (an eighth of a mile of steepness, thankyouverymuch) and around more streets in the neighborhood.

I remember initially complaining about that hill, but I remember my dad being firm about my staying on the bike and making it up that hill. That's where I learned to "ride through it".


My dad started taking me to the bike trail on weekends. He on his ultralight Fuji racing bike -- my mom still brags about how he got his speeding ticket on the bike while my dad "tries" to stop her from telling that story again -- and me on my banana seat contraption with the coast breaks.

My mom was never much of a cyclist, so this was good father-daughter time.

First of all came the mental toughening exercises. I used to be positive my dad was out to embarrass me with his funny clothing. He's a finicky dresser - he doesn't even like sweaters. When it comes to bikes, he's definitely not the spandex type, so he'd wear shorts if it was warm. Sometimes he'd embarrass me by wearing jeans and that little strap around his right pants leg -- I'm sure there's a proper term for that equipment like dorkustrap, el-nerd-strap, or something. It looked awful funny in the dead of summer.

So we'd set out on the trail and he'd figure a good pace that was a little faster than what I was good at. I'd be panting along and he'd push me to keep going. I'd holler back and complain (Lance Armstrong I wasn't!) but he'd keep pedaling along at the same exact pace for miles and miles. If I stopped for a non-legitimate reason (laziness!), he'd keep pedaling at that damn annoying pace and I'd just have to catch up.

I'd like to say this was all because I am an only child, but I have a feeling that my dad would have pushed me on the bike and taught me how to change the carborator on the old car even if he had boys, too.

His hard work paid off when I invited a friend from my soccer team to ride bikes with us on the trail. I absolutely crushed her. We had to slow way down. I felt awesome.


Sometime before my 12th birthday, I was riding my dad's bike an awful lot. Well, not riding so much as climbing on the rock wall and pushing off while teetering on the bike, unable to reach the pedals. Wow, no helmet then, either.

Around then, my parents started taking me to the bike shop. Now that I look back on it, it could have been an attempt to get me to focus on cycling, not horses. (Horses won out, by the way.)

It was time to get a bigger bike, my parents announced. The only problem was that they took me to the "boy bikes" section.

My parents wanted to buy something nice and fast. Looking back, I should have been grateful, but all I remember is fighting it every step of the way. I did want a 10-speed, but I wanted a PINK one. A girls version. A Huffy if possible.

Although I didn't vocalize it, I was afraid of a horizontal top tube. My dad still mounts bikes like cyclocross riders do by running a bit and swinging the right leg over (must be some old fashioned thing having to do with toe clips) and I just didn't think I'd be coordinated enough to do that.

My parents, being extremely good parents, surprised me on my birthday with that crappy pink bike. I remember being disappointed and hating the feel of the bike -- it felt like "Unsafe at any Speed" but bike style. But, I was reminded not to complain because I'd "made my choice" and they did indulge my silly request.


I did feel somewhat cooler when I took my 10-speed back to the bike trail. I think everyone felt just a tad adult when they graduated to their first multi-geared bike.

Now we were going longer distances. Not long enough to bring lunch, but longer than before. My dad was still pretty patient, but we had a new game: catch me if you can. He'd say he was taking off and was going to turn around after five miles. He'd spin off into the distance, like the RoadRunner in the cartoon. I would try to catch him but, of course, I couldn't, but he'd be back in no time anyway.


Soon enough I realized how crappy my choice of bikes was. The bike was so finicky. Everything from the brakes to the deraileur would go wacky if pushed with the component with your hand one way or the other. I pretty much gave up on the bike thing and started focusing on my other hobbies, piano, ballet, soccer and my new favorite kind of riding: riding horses.

I wish I would have known about bike racing when I was a kid. I have a feeling I would have kicked ass with my combination of iron legs and that fearlessness that is inherent in all kids.


By the way, my parents did indulge me one more time in bike land. They got me a great mountain bike for college. It was perfect for those cobblestone streets. Never had to adjust anything on the bike. It was truly rock solid. Too bad that bike was stolen a few years ago. It was such a great bike.


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