Friday Group Ride #309

Friday Group Ride #309

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?

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22 comments

  1. Jason

    My grandfather was the first to physically let go of the saddle. Because of my him, I have my first memories of riding our gravel driveway unassisted. It is a glorious memory I will always have. My father, however, was the one who taught me how to ride. He let me ride with the “men” long before I was close to being one. I’ve never suffered more. From learning how to draft to being gracious whether your the hammer or the nail, the lessons he instilled has kept cycling in my life for more than twenty years.

    I haven’t paid it forward, yet. My oldest daughter is three, and she’ll soon graduate from her scoot to a full fledged pedal bike.

  2. David Noble

    My father taught me mostly by running beside. It took several weekends. Training wheels are a disservice.

    My oldest son was taught by our nanny and my youngest son seems to have simply done it himself. Again, training wheels are a disservice.

    I taught my second wife to ride on a rented beach cruiser on a lovely day in Newport Beach. She never learned as a girl. It was an extraordinary gesture of love and trust for her to let me teach her this.

    I taught my niece in less than 90 minutes one evening after my brother in law bought her the bike. I specifically thought out my teaching approach on that occasion. I think it is best to learn from not-your-parent.

  3. Girl

    I think we tried the “raise the training wheels gradually” procedure, which never works, because all you end up with is a wobbly rider who casts from side to side, the training wheels barely catching the rider from falling over.

    If my dad ran behind me, I can’t remember it. I think that one day he simply took off the training wheels and let me try and try and try.

    What I DO remember is the day I learned to balance when I was 5 years old. I recall putting my right foot on the curb and trying to pedal until I fell over, putting my foot back on the curb. Over and over. And then…one time…I didn’t fall over! And I just kept going, and suddenly I could balance. I rode around and around in a loop on my street until sundown. It was the best day! I could ride!!

  4. Ransom

    I know it’s a tangent, but can you really mention a place called “Cwmcignant” to non-Welsh without giving us a parenthetic phonetic?

    My dad taught me to ride, on my beloved, solid-square-profile-tired Dirt Squirt. I believe it took a number of trips to suitable locations to try (29th street in San Francisco was not a “suitable location”, being a touch vertical and a bit busy). In fact, we may have moved houses before I got the knack…

    I’ve been more mechanic and advisor for kids in the extended family than actual teacher.

  5. Winky

    A random friend, who I can’t even recall, allowed me to try his bike. My first time without training wheels. My father was nowhere nearby. I have no recollection in him having any interest in such things at that time.

  6. Emil

    Still have a very clear memory of my Mother running alongside me down the sidewalk. She put in many hours teaching me and I remember the first time I made it, some 50 years ago!

  7. ScottyCycles

    My Dad taught me with the classic “holding onto the saddle” then letting go when the balance point was found, and of course not telling me which I soon discovered, panicked and promptly crash into the rosebushes.

    I taught my daughter the same way (except for crashing into rosebushes).

  8. Alan

    i taught myself by coasting down the driveway of rural cattle feedlot between Greeley & Milliken, Colorado.

    Once I started pedaling I rode for hours around the nearby fields until my mom was worried I’d die of exhaustion. I kept going because I felt like I was flying. The same feeling I still love to this day.

    Almost 40 years ago now.

  9. Peter Kelley

    I’m pretty sure I taught myself on my sister’s bike, also by rolling down a small hill.

    I taught both of my children to ride. When my son asked, “what keeps the bike from falling over?” I answered, “magic!”

  10. Tom in Albany

    I remember a combination to trying my older sister’s Schwinn and my father running alongside. We have an old 8mm of me riding my first bike in circles around the back yard. Pedal. Pedal. Fall. Pedal. Pedal. Fall. I distinctly remember riding down the sidewalk on my first bike – a three speed, banana seat, Schwinn with handbrakes and heading towards a busy intersection. My father was yelling for me to stop. So, I pedaled backwards – I’d learned that on my sister’s bike. When the pedals simply spun, to no effect, he yelled to use my hands. I managed to stop the bike just as the front wheel rolled off the curb and into the street. Feet planted, I stood there until my father caught up and pulled me back onto the sidewalk, crisis averted.

    As for paying it forward, you bet! My 10 year old son has been riding two wheels since he was four. I did the run-along on his maiden voyage and he didn’t know I’d let go until I ran beside him waving jazz hands! I cried. My wife is the one that got my daughter to do it. I sincerely believe she learned by learning to ride a Disney Princess Scooter and getting the hang of the balance thing. I got home from work one day and my daughter just kicked off and started riding her bicycle. I didn’t cry this time but I was bursting with pride that both of my children did it.

    Thanks for the stroll down memory lane, Robot. This was fun. More, please!

    1. Harris

      Tom, I took videos of my four year old boys on their first real ride. Whenever I watch it, I am drawn to everyone’s excitement and the pitch and cadence of my voice rising synchs up exactly with the excitement in my boys’ faces. Those were two of the best days I can really vividly remember.

    2. Tom in Albany

      @Harris – I have a cell phone video of my daughter and the grin on her face as she’s showing me she can do it is ear-to-ear!

      We also have video of my son – and my tears. I’m going to have to go back and watch it again.

      Cheers, man.

  11. Harris

    My dad taught me on my brother’s old Schwinn Stingray, and I learned some more from his Peugeot, which he traded in for an Eddy Merckx. He taught me a little more when he bought me a five speed Ross. I learned the most when he bought me my first adult bike, a Dave Scott Ironman.

    I paid it forward when I got him back out on the Merckx about ten years ago. He is a few more bikes and a couple RAGBRAI into it. I taught my two oldest boys with a balance bike and they took to it with minimal tears. My daughter, on the other hand. . .

  12. Paul Thober

    My father did the “holding the saddle running alongside” with me when I was five and we failed miserably. I didn’t learn to ride ’til two years later on a much too small bike rolling down a gently sloping driveway. I can still remember that thrill of motion and balancing 62 years later. Bicycles are wonderful.

    1. Tom in Albany

      My kids both still insist on being able to stand over their seats with feet planted on the ground. I sneak the saddle up on them and show them how much faster they can go when the extend their legs but, they want to stand. We’re working on it!

  13. Pat O'Brien

    My Dad and older brother taught me. I passed it on to my wife when I bought her a bike for her 37th birthday. She grew up on a farm. She could ride a horse and drive a big tractor, but bikes had no place on the two lane road in front of the farm clogged with milk and coal trucks. When she was 100 yards down the dirt road and yelled “you can let go” became one of the best moments in my life. I believe the secret was that I taught her how to stop first.

  14. Jorgensen

    I was too good with training wheels, taking corners like a monkey on a racing motorcycle sidehack. It took a while to learn to ride. A neighboring Mom having the comments that helped. Problem was I was riding in a big circle. Riding straight? That would take a while longer. Then came speed, figuring out how to corner faster, how to hop a curb way before BMX. The bike became the escape vehicle from a tense household. So I rode a LOT.
    Fast foreward to my children. I knew my son could steer and balance from his use of a Razor scooter. It took a while to get him on two bicycle wheels, a big circle again was the ticket. For him modulated braking was the issue, it every application brought a skid.
    My daughter really wanted a new bike, not the clean vintage ’76 Raleigh Mountie that was at hand. I advised that the new Trek was going to be very sensitive. It was too much. Success with the Mountie, she was frustrated that Dad was right. Long steering trail wins again.

  15. John Kopp

    I learned with training wheels, mostly coasting down hill until I got the balance down. Then off came the training wheels. My older brother learned about the same time. My Dad was the couch, and it was on a Schwinn 3 speed. We lived on a farm so roads were mostly dirt and gravel, except for US Highway 14/16 which was off limits. So didn’t ride bikes much. We had a pony and I remember using a Johnny Popper (John Deere) a lot. Fred used a small Ford. We both taught our younger sibling how to ride when they were old enough.
    But I really learned how to ride when I bought a C Itoh 10 speed as an adult and moved to Minneapolis. There I started riding with a club who taught me how to draft, ride a pace line in a large group, fix flats on the move, and even how to do a spoke dance when someone pretzeled a wheel, and be able to limp home. They nagged me about my C Itoh until I relented and bought a Trek 510. Much better machine! Miss that group and the few times we did RAGBRAI together.

  16. JHo

    My Mom. We lived in Van Nuys CA before we moved to Inglewood in 1954. I asked her to remove the training wheels and off I went down the slight incline to the garage. I don’t remember anything else until I was In my teens. My father was an LA Policeman. I won a white Schwin 3 speed at the LA Police summer picnic raffle at the Police Academy grounds. Converted it to a derailleur system and my high school friend Paul and I rode all around South Bay. From Inglewood up Western to Wilshire and over through Venice and Playa del Ray before Playla del Ray existed and it was nothing but slough and abandoned oil tanks. A couple of tours up the coast to County Line where his parents had a cabin up in the mountains near the Boy Scout camp are some great biking memories.

  17. Fuzz

    I spent two weeks with my eldest daughter, running up and down the street. With the youngest, I ran for about ten seconds and she yelled, “let go Daddy,” and I did.

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