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Jul 28 / Caro

Just Like…. Riding a Bike!

Thomas has always loved bikes. Toddling around the local playground when he could only just walk it was always older children’s bikes that he was interested in. And sure enough, the scooter he was given was rejected pretty much as soon as he was too big to ride on the attached seat, because it no longer resembled a bike.
So we bought him a balance bike the summer he was two.
It was probably slightly too big for him, a child who was long down in the lowest part of the growth charts. So it took him a short while to get the hang of it, me running along behind, holding on to help him learn to balance (whilst simultaneously wrecking my back – ahh, parenthood!). And then he was away. Picking up his feet and gliding along, reaching speeds that made him challenge to keep up with. And “riding my bike” has been an obsession ever since.
Last winter he began asking for a pedal bike. By now, the seat of his balance bike was at its top height, and picking up his feet to glide was more of a necessity than a choice. And I could see he was ready to at least try.
His fourth birthday would have been a good opportunity. But the trouble with a winter birthday is that it comes along with big puddles, slippery leaves and so much mud. Not to mention short days a deep darkness. Hardly the ideal conditions for learning to ride a bike and consolidating that skill. If Thomas and I both hadn’t been so keen to avoid stabilisers and the potential loss of that vital balance skill, we might have done it. But I wanted to wait.
Winter and Spring were punctuated with reminders that he really, really wanted a “big boy bike” and to learn to pedal properly. He was adamant that riding a bike was something he was going to do “before I start school”. So eventually we promised that when we got back from Florida, we’d choose him a bike and he could start to learn.
We kept our promise. The weekend after our return saw us mooching around a few local bike shops, checking him against frame sizes to ensure we were picking the right one. We were very firm that we needed to look around first and we wouldn’t be buying a bike that day. Surprisingly he took that pretty well.
We learned quite a lot about bikes that day. About how the majority of girls bikes are pink or princess themed, and the majority of boy’s bikes are superhero themed. We learned that wheel sizes vary on the same sized frame, and that not all handlebars and brakes are equal. But in the course of our search, we came across the next model up from his balance bike. It has the same shape and styling, just a frame size larger and with pedal and two brakes. Back home, online, all the reviews suggested kids found the transition from the same balance bike to this one pretty seamless. And better still it was on offer.
Despite saying we’d not be buying a bike that day, what Thomas didn’t know is that by that evening it was ordered. We selected the free build service and arranged to pick it up that Friday. By good fortune I finished work early and had time to swing by the shop and stow it safely in the boot of the car, only having to remember not to let Thomas put his school bag in the boot when I picked him up.
The next day dawned overcast and showery and my heart sank. But by lunchtime the sun was out in full force, and operation ride a bike was go.
We asked Thomas if he wanted to go to the park. As we left the house, I told him that I needed something from the boot of the car. I only wish I’d had a camera ready as I opened it. “A bike, a bike, my pedal bike!” The boy was literally jumping for joy.
Despite his enthusiasm, we got off to a slow start. We encouraged him to use it like a balance bike and get the feel for it, but he seemed frustrated by that suggestion because it was a pedal bike and he wanted to do it properly. We worked our way slowly across the park with me first supporting the handlebars as he pedalled, and then just the saddle from behind. As we tried to assure him that he needed to maintain speed, Ian and I have never uttered the words “pedal, pedal, pedal” so many times in a single day. Thomas’s response over and over was to make sure that I wasn’t going to unexpectedly let go. I kept sneaking my hands off for moments at a time, and I was confident he could do it. He just wasn’t confident himself.
In the end, it was a train that made him ride.
We reached the section of the park where an underpass crosses the train tracks to enter the woods. It’s Thomas’s favourite place, because he can sit and watch the trains to and from London that pass with efficient frequency. As he heard the tell tale rumble of an approaching service he looked up and gave the familiar refrain of “A train, a train” and within moments he was away, feet up on the pedals and flying.
It took a good fifteen seconds before he remembered to shout “don’t let go Mummy”.
And I was trying hard not to cry as I shouted back that I’d never been holding on in the first place.
He stopped and looked over his shoulder before giving me a massive grin and declaring “I can do it. I can really do it.”
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Watching him fly along the path away from me made me think of all the ways he flying away from me as he grows in size, in independence, in maturity and in skill. But that cheeky grin and the pride on his face reminded me that he’ll always be my baby.
That was nearly two months ago, and he hasn’t stopped since. He’s so proud of his skill, telling everybody about his new bike and how much he loves riding. He made me share it on his school’s online learning journal and couldn’t wait to call his grandparents to share the exciting news.
The only downside for me is that there is absolutely no keeping up with him on foot. But it does mean that my own bike is getting regular outings too, and suddenly a whole host of destinations are within much easier reach without needing to take the car.
Learning to ride a bike is one of those milestones that we all remember. I still remember my little Raleigh “Bullet” and my own dad running along behind me until I’d mastered it. And family cycle rides around the park are one of those activities that I’ve been looking forward to since that second pink line appeared.
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Magical moments indeed.
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