Life in the Bike Lane column

If they hadn’t invented bicycles

By: Tom Frady
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I can remember my dad running behind me, holding on to the seat of my sister’s hand-me-down bike, as I wobbled down the sidewalk, trying to find my balance on what seemed like impossibly skinny tires.  I was 5.

Flash forward about 30 years and we find me running behind my daughters’ bikes as they wobble, trying to find their balance on impossibly skinny tires. 

Flash forward another 30 years to see me running behind my grandson, holding on to the seat of his bike as he wobbles across the McBean Park parking lot, trying to find his balance on impossibly skinny tires. 

With my grandson, I started with instructions and practice on how to stop.  I saw too many videos on TV of out-of-control kids running into mailboxes or disappearing into hedges (as my youngest once did) because they didn’t know how to apply brakes. He was doing well on the balance part, too, so I let go of the seat and he was able to ride a good 100 feet before stopping with enough control to not fall down.  Turning was another matter, but as we continued, he got that down, too.

My grandson wanted to move to the skate park adjacent to the parking lot and was soon riding in circles around the ramps, albeit mostly in a counter-clockwise direction. 

I’m not quite sure what happened, maybe he turned a little too sharply, but he brushed one of the ramps and crashed.  He didn’t hit the ground hard but was trapped between his bike and the edge of the ramp.  It was a hot day and the metal edge of the ramp not only scraped his leg but “burned” him as well.

As can be imagined, that ended the lesson for the day.  Heading home, still sobbing, he said, “If bicycles had never been invented, that would never have happened!”  He vowed never to ride a bike again.

I felt a little sick. I knew he really needed to know how to ride but I wasn’t sure he would ever try again.  Sometime later, I heard him say to his cousin, when it was suggested they ride around the block, “let’s take scooters.”

Several months passed.  Then, out of the blue, he said, “Papa, I want to learn to ride my bike.”

What changed his mind?  He had watched “little kids” come to school on their bikes and he couldn’t keep up with his buddies in the neighborhood when he was on his scooter and they were on bikes.

We spent a few minutes on the “stop/start” drill.  Then he took off up our quiet street.  There was a little look of panic on his face as he gained speed on the slight downhill coming back but the “stop/start” drill paid off. 

I couldn’t get him off the bike. Next, we rode around the block together.  He had to run inside to tell everyone about it.  Then we rode around the block in the opposite direction.  Then, three blocks, etc. 

Now, when we pick him up at school a couple of times a week, it’s “can we take a bike ride?” and he’s on the front sidewalk, helmet on, straddling his bike before I’m out of the car.

Kids who ride bikes have been 100 percent more likely to have a happy childhood.  If they hadn’t invented bicycles, that wouldn’t have happened.  OK, I just made that up, but you know it’s true. 

Tom Frady is a Lincoln resident and avid cyclist and driver.