As his not-so-tininess The Deuce exited the turn I could see his eyes widen and mouth pull taught in an O of amazement. His expression said it all—Holy cow, I pulled it off! U-turns had been his Gettysburg, a move of near constant defeat, and this time, with his feet off the pedals and his legs spread as wide as his muscles would allow, he sailed through his arc. As he slowed, he planted his feet on the asphalt and looked up.
Daddy, did you see?!
There’s something about first-time events that due to their singularity, the very fact that they’ve never occurred before this very event that they seem if not impossible, then unlikely, so we have to ask someone else. I still do it when I have company; we all need a witness, right? But with a child, they need that confirmation because they aren’t convinced it was real until you report that you saw it too.
I get to see that face, his bright expression, the O of whoa, on a nearly daily basis as he rides in our driveway. It is an important reminder to me of why we all still ride bikes. That amazement isn’t a routine experience for any of us anymore, but there’s still a kernel of it in every ride. Simply heading out is an implicit statement of hope, that we’re open to it happening with each new ride.
The Deuce’s problem has been that he turns in too quickly and he ends up low-siding. It still happens, though maybe only one in five turns now. Of course, he sees the problem not in terms of him asking the bike to do something physics won’t allow it to do. The bike simply isn’t cooperating.
But here’s the thing: when his impulse lines up with what the bike can do, his reaction is incandescent. It’s flow with its telltale need to do that thing more—right now.
What I find especially illuminating is how his experience has changed from one bike to another. In a matter of weeks he moved from a 12-inch-wheel balance bike to a 12-inch-wheel bicycle to one with 14-inch wheels. Despite the fact that his urge is to turn in suddenly, and take a digger as a result, the bike with the larger wheels has been a welcome change for him. It fits him better, and thanks to a longer wheelbase and the larger wheels, its handling is calmer, more stable. The larger wheels also mean lower rolling resistance, so he’s faster as well, and when was the last time a little speed wasn’t fun?
Perhaps the biggest revelation in all this is the way I see it inspire independence in him. Sure, he likes being able to pedal and carve a path of his choosing, but when I really see the independence come through, the occasions when I see how much it matters to him, are when it is perhaps least obvious. When he falls he wants to pick up the bike himself. He doesn’t want help getting up unless his foot catches on the bike and he can’t get up by himself, something that does occur at least once per day. Those skinned knees? I’m okay. It’s going to take more than a bit of lost skin to keep him off the bike.
When we look at those things that contribute to a happy life, certain things are reported over and over. Top among them is feeling mastery and control over your circumstance. I see nothing else in this kid’s life that provides the same degree of control, the same charge, as riding his bike, and I try to watch with the objective eye of a journalist. Of course, I could just take his word for it.
I want to ride my bike, Daddy. It’s my favorite.