“You fell down a lot”
This was my father’s response delivered in his typical matter of fact style when I asked him about the day he taught me to ride a bike. Eight years old is the official bicycle bearing birthday in our family. The second of four boys, I looked forward to this birthday for two years with much anticipation. I don’t remember if there was a party, not the cake either…
I remember this:
A shiny green single speed Schwinn Racer.
I loved this bike and it drove my younger brother crazy. I want to remember that I shared this treasure of mine but as an adult I am keenly aware of my reluctance to share the things I covet. He would have to wait another whole year before he would enjoy this new freedom, this feeling of flight, this joy. This bike was mine.
The Racer was a bit oversized to allow for room to grow and bolted to the rear axle were training wheels. I remember that riding a bike with training wheels was an extremely awkward experience. The teeter-totter motion as you attempted a straight line and the tendency of the bike to lean away in the corners to the tipping point, never felt secure. Regardless of their namesake, training wheels do not help you learn how to ride a bike. You are forced to steer with the handlebars by turning them in the direction you want to go. Anyone familiar with the term counter steer knows the fallacy of this logic. These infernal contraptions had to go.
Da-ad, “when are you going to teach me how to ride” became my mantra.
A sunny, summer, Saturday morning started with such great expectations. My father steadied the Racer while I struggled to balance. My toes barely touched the pedals. He pushed, ran along side, released.. I fell. My father, being a patient man, spent the better part of the morning pushing me and watching me fall, coaxing me back on only to see it play out in similar fashion over and over again. My courage and will were being tested like nothing I had done before. Each time I mounted the bicycle I knew a crash was eminent.
My patience exhausted, I went head first into a childlike rage. My father, however unamused, remained steadfast.
“Let me try”, my younger brother asked as he picks up the bike and rides off like he has been riding for his entire life. My father mentions it may be time to give my bike to my brother as he was clearly willing and capable. Sibling rivalry, whether nature or nurtured, is a powerful motivator.
My father steadies the bike as I mount it bravely. My heart was full of fear; my head full of fight. One push and I pedaled into the oblivion of a consequence of my own making.
Our subdivision’s roadway was separated in the middle by a grass strip and lined with small maple trees. There is a break every 200 yards to allow vehicles access to the returning lane on the other side. Within thirty feet of my start was a turn around and the next break was down the road, out of sight. I changed my strategy and passed the first turn, then focused on going straight, giving me another 200 yards to build the courage necessary to attempt a turn. When I reached the end I realized I need only turn to the left 90 degrees heading towards a cul-du-sac. Of course, I began the turn by using the handle bars. Elegant it was not, but I succeeded in holding it together. Phew! After barely recovering from that turn, I pedaled my way towards the cul-du-sac with a huge radius. I turned with the handle bars again and again it was shaky. Ever so slowly I allowed my body to lean into the turn and as I did, the wobble, the shakiness was replaced by a smooth, comfortable turn.
Taking a wide angle, I leaned nicely into the right 90 degree turn to bring me home and pedaled like like Cavendish towards a line. I returned home confident with my new found skill and thrilled in knowing true joy. Sadly, I don’t recall my father’s reaction as I was consumed by my own feelings.
“You fell a lot”.
“Yeah… I sure did”, I replied as the expression skipped along my lifelong mistakes like a flat stone on the surface of a lake.