The bicycle lesson

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By Ken Begley


Get a bicycle. You will not regret it, if you live.
~Mark Twain, “Taming the Bicycle
Let me start off by saying that nobody knows more about riding a bicycle than me.
 I was raised in an age when parents had one car and it was not for transporting kids around town.  In those days you either walked or biked.
I had a paper route at 10 and routinely delivered the now-defunct “Louisville Times” several miles around Springfield, seven days a week, for three years.
I tell you all of this so you realize that it’s not my fault if my kids didn’t inherit my talent or enthusiasm for the bike.
I was teaching my oldest to ride a bike about 12 years ago.  She’s pretty coordinated, or so it seemed.  It did not go well.
First, we proceeded with the old standard of putting the kid on the bike and running beside them.  I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking,  “Isn’t the first step riding a bike with training wheels?”  That’s for sissies, in my professional opinion.  Nobody’s going to hold you up in life, so why start something like that early on.
Second, after the kid gets a little bit of confidence, you give support while running by the  bike and then launch them with a mighty push.  This is proceeded by screaming, “pedal, pedal, pedal.” It depends on your strength in the push as to how long the kid will stay up.  It’s my experience that kids will be so busy trying to pedal that they don’t think to put their feet down when they start to loose momentum and fall sideways.
Here’s a helpful hint, future bike instructors.  Stuff your pockets with plenty of tissue before this phase.  All that laughing you’re going to do will sure make your eyes tear up.  A few bandages for the kid wouldn’t hurt, either.
Third, find a big hill you can push the kid down.  A grass hill is fine, but I prefer good old blacktop.
I took the kid over to my brother-in-law’s house for the third lesson.  He had a great blacktop road on a good hill in a quiet neighborhood.
It was now time for the solo ride.
She started in the driveway, then biked up the hill and was really doing well.  Then she turned and started down the hill.  The speed she was building was impressive and caused me some concern. If she had wings, I believe she would have left the ground.
I called out, “Put on the brakes!”  
She was a blur as she passed me. Yet, in passing, I did notice her glance sideways at me.  She had a puzzled look while silently mouthing the word “Brakes?”
I knew right then that I would have to add another step to my bike-riding lesson plan.  Well, who among us is perfect?
The road intersected with another road to form a T. The front wheel hit a big decorative rock in somebody’s yard when she left the road.  She did a very graceful flip in the air and then landed on her face.
The next day she had a really impressive black eye with all kinds of pretty colors.  Of course, it was nothing compared to the one I had after my wife saw what had happened. Just kidding.  Wives, what do they know about bike riding anyway?
I felt pretty bad about the whole thing.  So, that next Saturday I decided to make everything up by taking the kids to Hardee’s for lunch.
My kid was a little bit self-conscious about her eye so she immediately hunched over her meal trying to hide it while eating her hamburger.
We were just about done when an older gentleman came over and tapped me on the shoulder. 
He started saying, “I just wanted to tell you that I’ve been watching your family and you have the best-mannered kids I’ve ever seen and I don‘t know how you do…”
He didn’t get to finish that statement.
About that time my kid quit hunching over her meal and looked up while giving him a big smile with that black eye covering half her face.
He looked at the black eye, he looked at me.  Then he slowly edged out of Hardee’s without showing his back to me.  I still remember the disturbed look he had.
Wonder what got into him?  Must have remembered something he had to do.  We left shortly thereafter.