Howdy, friends. Here is my column for this week’s paper:
My son learned to ride a two-wheel bike this past week.
Without training wheels.
On the third trip down the driveway.
He’s 4.5 years old.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I learned how to ride a bike, but I don’t think it was 4.
If it sounds like I’m bragging about Jack, that’s because I am. This is the boy who has failed to advance in his swimming lessons for over a year. Whose 2.5-year-old sister has a better arm – Viv can hit you with her fork from across the room. Trust me on this one.
We bought Jack a Strider balance bike for his 3rd birthday. Balance bikes are bikes with no pedals or brakes – the theory being that learning balance is the hardest part of biking, so teach that first. I had to sort of talk my husband into the balance bike, but pretty soon he was sold. Though at his birthday party, the bike took second place to the pink Converse tennis shoes Jack had begged for. I wondered if we had made a mistake buying the bike – maybe he just wasn’t interested.
But we kept trying, getting it out and going for walks while he pushed himself along. Within a month, he was picking his feet up on the downhills and gliding a bit. And very soon after that, he planted his feet on the little bars and coasted all over our McKennan Park neighborhood – fast enough where I had to put my running shoes on when I took him out – and push Viv in the running stroller when she came along.
We got so many looks and comments about the Strider (the company was founded in Rapid City in 2007), especially because Jack is very small for his age. He just looked like a tiny kid flying around on this weird little bike. I found myself spreading the gospel of balance bikes – and there are a ton of brands out there now. We know a lot of kids with different kinds, and really, they are all pretty cool.
They’re also durable: We ran over the Strider with our 20-year-old Land Cruiser, and it was totally fine. Don’t worry, Jack wasn’t on it at the time. It was a casualty of packing up our camping gear in a rainstorm.
We also borrowed a tricycle and bought a Big Wheel so Jack could figure out pedaling, which took him much longer than balance.
But this year, we thought it was time to take the test, buy a bike and see if this whole “teach balance first” method really worked.
So one Saturday, Philip took Jack out to buy a bike, no training wheels. They came home and we put his helmet on, planted Viv in her stroller (it’s hard enough to learn to ride a bike without dodging a toddler) and stood in a light rain to just see.
We have a fairly long driveway, with a big turnaround at the top. Philip held on to the seat – like dads have done for generations – and guided him along, reminding him to pedal.
The third time down the driveway, he just let go.
And Jack did it. He pedaled, stayed upright, and even sang a little song out loud about how he was riding his bike. (Video here.)
We were truly amazed.
By the fifth time up the driveway, he was turning a circle around the top.
Jack had no fear on that bike. He even fell and didn’t seem to really mind. I think that is part of the benefit of trying the balance bike first – he fell off that a lot, and so he sort of knows how to fall, knows he might and isn’t afraid. He was so relaxed on his bike.
We still have a lot to work on – things like not riding into the street (which apparently is harder to learn than balance), how to get started on your own on the bike, and that you have to pedal for it to actually move.
But we’re getting there.
And this little bit of hope was enough to make me not care when the following Monday we learned he hadn’t advanced in his swim class. Again. So what, I thought. He can ride a bike.
Philip and I recently celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary, and that evening we took the kids out for a bike ride and stroller ride around the neighborhood. As I watched him push Jack to get him started, I realized the importance of marrying not just a good husband, but a good father. And I felt like we were this awesome slice of Americana for that moment. A mom, a dad, learning to ride a bike, the baby girl. Every once in a while, life feels so incredibly sweet, you can hardly choke back the tears.
That was quickly dashed with yelling at Jack to “Stop, just STOP!” before riding into the street.
We’ve already lowered the seat on the Strider, and Viv is well on her way to learning to ride, too.
So if you see us on the bike path – a wobbly 4-year-old on a red bike, doing his best to steer, give us some room and all of your patience. We still have a lot to learn.
Jacqueline Palfy Klemond is the local news editor. Her first bike was blue and a hand-me-down from one of her three sisters.