My poor father, running along next to me, his hand clamped at the back of the saddle, the bars wobbling like a single-engine plane in an updraft. Ironic it’s easier for me to put myself inside his head in that moment, behind his eyes, than it is to imagine what was going through my own mind. I know I wanted to ride. I wanted to get it, but it didn’t happen.
We reached top speed, him still holding on, and I jammed hard back on the coaster brake, locking the rear wheel, my back-spun pedal catching him squarely in the shin. I can feel his feelings now, having run alongside my own boys. I believe he employed less profanity with me than I did with mine, but he’s a better person.
And I mean that.
That was the summer of 1976, I think, maybe ’77. We visited his family, our family, in Wales the next summer, all of us crammed into my grandparents tiny bungalow on the side of a green hill outside Newtown. From somewhere, a bicycle appeared, small and red, with hard, white rubber wheels.
My grandparents’ driveway was a steeply sloping triangle spilling out onto the single lane that connected the village to the farms spread all around it. At first glance, it would not seem the ideal place to learn to ride, and there was certainly no good, flat stretch for my father to reprise his co-pilot’s roll. I wandered out while the adults sat drinking tea and eating my grandmother’s small, butter-frosted cakes around the tiny dining room table.
At first I just wobbled there astride the bike, looking down the pitch of the driveway like a first-time bungee jumper. What made me pick my feet up, I don’t know. Courage? A drive to ride? Simple boredom?
But I recall the feeling, finally, of swooping down, gravity sucking me into its sweet arc, before rising again to the other side of the drive, not entirely believing what had just happened. So I did it again.
Within the week, I was pedaling up the lane to my uncle’s farm, Cwmcignant, my first road ride, my first bike-borne adventure. I had, in strictest terms, taught myself, but it was my father who put the time in, who told me I could do it. He doesn’t remember any of that now, but I do.
This weeks’ Group Ride asks, who taught you to ride? How’d they do it? Where? And who have you taught? Have you “paid it forward?” Or is that all out in front of you still?