Monday, August 25, 2008

Belles on Bikes

I finally did something great with a bicycle: I helped my daughters learn to ride it.
The Squirts are 4 and 6, and both are now riding without training wheels -- pretty well, in fact.
Of course, I have a somewhat lenient standard for what constitutes "pretty well": That is, if they wreck not much more often nor more violently than their gravity-victimized Dad, they're doing fine.
Everything happened quickly, in the last handful of days.
It started on Wednesday, when I came home from work to discover that Jen had pulled the training wheels off of both girls' bikes, at their request. I'd been coaxing them toward that - in Natalie's case, for a year plus. But I didn't want to force anything on them. And even though they both have a bit of the daredevil in them, they've not been in a hurry to abandon the extra wheels.
Yet there they were, riding for 6 or 8 feet at a stretch without training wheels.
So I knew it was the exact moment I needed to start teaching -- one at a time.
Wednesday evening, I took Nat up to a nearby elementary school that has a small ballfield at the bottom of a short hill. After some coaching, I lowered her saddle so both feet could easily reach the ground. I took her and the bike to the top of the hill and let them roll down.
It was like watching a robin fledge: On that first trip down the hill, she rode a good 80 feet before losing momentum. On the next, she went almost twice as far. Soon she was pedaling around the field.
So we went to the parking lot at the top of the hill. The pavement has a very subtle false-flat slope -- just enough to be perfect for our purposes. She climbed on the bike and rode all the way to the end of the lot, 200 feet away. Then I taught her the line she'd need to do a U-turn and head back. She got it right on her first try.
Thursday night was Claire's turn. She didn't do quite as well as Natalie, but she's 21 months younger. She did fine on the ball field; less well on the pavement.
I was in Denver when Claire took her first steps, and I don't remember Natalie's. But I'll remember this. The pride and excitement on their little faces was priceless.
Both took their spills and skinned their knees a little, and Claire got a very dark saddle-nose bruise on her inner thigh. These things they thought were great, because it made them just like Dad, who seems to have been nursing one or another road-rash sore for a year now.
On Sunday, we went over to a high school with a rubberized running track -- softer than asphalt if they spill, but hard enough to be a lot easier to ride on than grass. Within 10 minutes, Natalie was doing full 400-meter laps back to back. Claire worked her way up to about 3/4-lap stints before it became clear her tiny bike was too small for her to maintain enough momentum. When I put her on Nat's bike, she rode a full lap on her first try.
Not all was great. At one point, after Claire fell, she saw Natalie riding "the wrong way" toward her on the track. So Claire did what a lot of us with more experience and self-restraint often wish we could do: She heaved her bike into Natalie's path. Big pileup. Later, Nat rode right at Jen and me, trying to be a silly showoff, before realizing she hadn't acquired the maneuvering skills that idiotic pranks require. Again, she went down in a painful heap atop her bike. (Both of them have a knack for landing on top of their bikes, in a painful, bruising way.)
It's slightly disingenuous to say I "taught" them. We parents rarely teach our kids to balance. Best we can do is recognize when they're ready to learn and then help them, which is what I did.
Now we'll see whether I did them any favors: Natalie has often declared that she will become a bike racer "like my dad." If that happens, she will probably hate me. Now, if she becomes a bike racer quite unlike her dad, and actually wins from time to time, we'll both be proud.


Postscript: We picked up a suitably cool bike for Nat at the Greek Festival flea market last night -- a Huffy. Its new owner won't be big enough to ride it until spring, but it won her enthusiastic blessing because it possesses the one trait that seems to be most redeeming and important quality to her: It isn't pink. To me, it also held overwhelming appeal for a different reason: It cost $7.50.
Hell of a deal. Now I gotta put some Record components on it, eh?

1 comment:

Ray Huang said...

Dont forget the wild screams of joy for a handlebar mounted basket and a good bell!! Ding!!