My son turned four last month, and he has recently fallen in love with the idea of getting a “big boy” bike. In other words, step aside tricycle! Spring is coming, and that trike is so last season.
We took him to the store a few days ago (evil big box retailer once again. We are weak. Weak, I tell you!), and let him try out a few, to see what size would be the best fit. Unless you have kids, you probably don’t realize that little kid bikes come in several sizes. We were quick to learn he’s in the 16” frame market. And they had Spider Man! Cue happy kid (and happier Dad!).
As we were busy corralling him so he wouldn’t take off down the aisles on “HIS” new bike—explaining he’d have to wait to see if maybe the Easter Bunny would bring him one is a whole ‘nother story—I took note of how blissfully stable the training wheel setup was. And I got jealous of the safe, fun way in which he’ll get to learn to ride.
When I was a kid, learning to ride a bike, even with training wheels, was a bit…terrifying.
Why is that, you may ask? Oh, you silly youngsters.
Not to age myself, but I have no choice if I’m going to explain this properly. You see, when I learned to ride a bike in the magical year of 1979 (I was in kindergarten. Yeah, I’m old. Get over it.), training wheels weren’t the lovely, stable, smooth, run flat on the ground support enjoyed by kids today (and kids since sometime in the early 80s, I believe).
No, our training wheels rode a couple of inches off the ground. The idea was you’d learn balance, but the wheels would catch you so you wouldn’t actually fall. This resulted in an odd combination of elation and terror. A feeling of panic grabbing your heart as you tilted first to the left and then to the right, your heart racing as the training wheels caught you at the last possible second before certain death. Panic and blind fear. That’s the way to learn, man!
“I’m doing it! I’m riding a bike!”
“AAAHHH! I’m gonna die!”
“Yes! The wheels caught me! I’m INVINCIBLE!”
This range of emotions would span a period of mere seconds, repeated on a continuous loop until you a) learned to ride a bike b) said “Screw this! I’m going inside to watch The Love Boat!” or c) gave up and rode a Big Wheel for another year.
And we didn’t have helmets.
But we did get to ride bikes with banana seats. And there is something to be said for accomplishment gained through terror. It’s more meaningful to overcome than to never have really faced adversity. We conquered our fears. Not to say it won’t be a little scary once the training wheels come off, but to have no fear of falling before they do? I think you miss out on something.
And did I mention we got banana seats? Suck on that, new millennium!