The Deuce Rides

The Deuce Rides

One of the more amazing experiences of being a parent, for me, has been watching when the light goes on in a kid’s—my kid’s—head. Something suddenly clicks and they grok something that they didn’t just the day before. Whether reading, throwing a ball or riding a bike, that moment of understanding is stoketastic. I get why teachers do what they do.

When I shot the photo below some months back, Matthew was more enamored of the tricycle than the balance bike. While the razor scooter clicked for Philip at 22 months, Matthew didn’t get it at 32 months. Kids are different, right? Honestly, I wondered if I’d see things click for him in the same way, no matter the age. And maybe that was selling Matthew short, but I just wanted to let go of my own expectations enough to let him grow in whatever way he was inclined to.

Matthew’s interest in tools had me wondering if he might be more bike mechanic than bike rider. Whatevs. If it makes him happy, I’m good with that. His concern for making sure all tires are pumped up to an appropriate pressure is cuter than a kitten snuggling with a bunny. Just Google it.

Previously, he’d ride the balance bike (we have both a Skuut and the Isla Bikes Rothan) for a short distance and the moment his weight went one way the bike went another, he’d either step off or fall and then step off. He wasn’t feeling the stoke.

Last week, that changed. Following my return from Monterey and the Sea Otter Classic, he told me one afternoon that he wanted to try his bike. I asked for clarification as his tricycle is also a “bike.” When I realized he meant his balance bike, we were downstairs faster than he can recite the alphabet.

The Deuce has never had the surefooted balance and grace of his big brother. Just not the same kid. He doesn’t possess the same need for movement, to zoom through his environment. Rather than try to mold him into an image of me, or a copy of his brother, I’ve allowed him to find his own way and chase his own interests. He still loves Thomas the Train. OMG. And he knows every character on sight.

For three afternoons last week, the boys and I pulled bikes and roller skates out (Philip is as into roller skates as he is bikes right now) and rolled around our driveway. On Friday I noticed that Matthew was at a point that he was coasting upwards of four feet at a stretch. It was enough, I calculated, that he could improve on it if he had more momentum. Thanks to his trike he already knew how to pedal.

So on a weekend afternoon, as he was rolling around on the balance bike, I pulled out a box with the Specialized Hot Rock I’d purchased more than four years ago for Philip. I turned the bar, added pedals and then allowed him to help me pump up the tires.

Next, he stepped over the saddle, sat down and I steadied him as he put his feet on the pedals. I began pushing him and then gave one firm shove and off he went. I’m not sure who was more stoked. I couldn’t see either of our faces.

He’s growing quickly enough that he is almost too big for this 12-inch-wheel Hot Rock. And while I’ve got another Hot Rock with 16-inch wheels, and the saddle on this bike could be higher, I have left the saddle low so that he can easily get his feet to the ground if he needs to.

The first time he executed a U-turn and came coasting back toward me the light in his eyes was unmistakable. Flow. He’d just done something difficult and had lived to tell the tale. He rode for more than an hour yesterday. Getting him upstairs for dinner was nearly a matter of tears. And he was asleep on the floor moments after dinner. My wife told me he asked to go ride shortly after waking this morning.

It’s interesting to note that he still can’t start on his own—he needs a push from me, but he’s pretty adept at stopping and figured out the coaster brake right away. Philip killed a half dozen pairs of shoes before getting the hang of the coaster brake. Also he mostly only turns right so far.

The bike is now his favorite recreation. I’m beyond stoked, but really, the best part is just seeing him so lit up. His excitement, I’m learning, is better than my own.


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  1. TomInAlbany

    Awesome! I remember that feeling of joy when my kids first rode. I shed a tear when my son did it and ran along side my daughter waving my hands at her as she pedalled away. It’s the coolest! Much cooler than the other side of the pillow, IMHO.

  2. Jesus from Cancun

    That´s what life should be all about. I am an ex-this, former-that, whatever-er of a former whatever-ship. None of that matters anymore. Right now I only have one bike, the one I need to follow my kids, whether they want to ride their bikes or rollerblade. Riding my cheap mountain bike behind my kids has brought me much higher satisfactions than any super bike I rode before. Watching them enjoy their daily little achievements is the most amazing thing that has happened in my life.
    Thank you for sharing.

  3. Jeff Dieffenbach

    I wasn’t yet hooked on cycling when I taught my sons (now in their early 20s) to ride. Maybe that’s why I don’t have the sharp memories I wish I did.

    Although my older son rode skillful MTB on trails near college, neither embraces the passion today. I’m fine with that, and certainly would never force the issue.

    That said, I’ll be over the moon if and when the joy of cycling finds them the way it found and finds my soul.

    Great post, Patrick!

  4. Chuck

    Wait until that moment when they master clipless pedals. My daughter figured it out almost instantly. Made easier with SPD “easy release” pedals.

    Although my daughter has a road bike, all the kit, and occasionally rides with me and my wife (usually coffee rides), she’s not really a rider. She’s a golfer so I’ve watched her go through all the same kind of things as she’s learned to hit golf balls and become a competitive junior golfer. And now live with the fact that she can beat me pretty much all the time.

  5. David

    I got my granddaughter a bike- a Woom 3, highly recommended- for her 4th birthday after getting her a balance bike for her 2nd. It wasn’t until she was 4½ that I had the opportunity to take her out on it. We rode over 2 miles with me running along side her, holding on (she had lots of confidence on the balance bike for the past 2 years) but she wouldn’t let me let go, even though I did surreptitiously for a couple of seconds at a time. Then, just before going home, she wanted to go a bit further. I let go and off she went! Like your son, she still can’t get started, but most of all she only wants to ride with me- my daughter and son in law can’t get her to go with them. I’m hoping that will change quickly with a bit more practice and confidence, mostly because we live 1000 miles away!
    As exciting as teaching my own kids was, I don’t remember it being as much fun as this.

  6. Geoffrey Knobl

    Envy – pure envy. I live where these moments were either taken away from me or just won’t happen. My older son enjoys biking but not so much for exercise as to just see what he can do for pure fun. I tried to get him going but it took some time. When he went to the beach with his grandparents I vowed to finish it when he got back. No, we didn’t have the coasters but just the old method of training wheels that I hate. Anyway, when he came back from the beach, he grandfather had taught him how to ride. I was proud of my son but rather shattered inside.

    My younger son has issues with fear, being a little on the autism spectrum. It was extremely frustrating to get him going on a bike and I probably pushed harder than I should have. My wife is the calmer of us two so she held back and let him do his thing more. We finally got him to ride without training wheels and he still can but he only rides when he must – when we insist – so only once a year, really. And each time he gets on the bike he has to overcome the fear of falling. He’s never experienced the joy of just riding around in a circle, it seems to me, but will ride just to show he can then “that’s enough.” He never asks to ride. Of course, I feel sad because I’ll never get a chance to have us, as a family, ride on the Wildlife Loop on Chincoteague Island.

    One consolation is that he seems to be getting into rock climbing. Why not substitute one dangerous sport for another? Well, if he wants to do that, we’ll pour what little resources into that so he can do it more often. Make the best of a non-cycling situation!

  7. Author

    This post was maybe premature by a day or two. Last night he figured out how to push himself a few strides to get started. He no longer needs me to give him a push. He told me that the Hot Rock was the “best bike in the whole world” and that riding his bike was his favorite thing to do.

  8. Fuzz

    With my eldest, I spent two weeks running up and down the street. With the next, I held on for about 10 seconds before she yelled, “let go daddy.” And that was that. Even though both are girls, I’m pretty sure they are completely different species.

  9. Isaac

    Seeing that light come on and the pride and happiness of figuring something out is honestly the best feeling ever.

    Our 4.75 year old had been scooting around on a balance bike expertly (sidewalks, trails, mountain bike trails) but when we got him a pedal bike last summer he froze… he never really pedaled a trike or anything and just freaked himself out.

    I tried the running with him for a while… that didn’t work.

    He asked tearfully to just be able to use training wheels so he could have fun on his bike. We did and that got him pedaling, though he was used to the speed of his balance bike so would make corners so awkward… but was liking it.

    Then this spring some friends were over (with a slightly older kid) with some bikes and just puttering around… and he started to go. Fast. Then he figured out how to start by himself… now he’s cruising through rocks and can’t wait to try singletrack again.

    Seeing his smile after a few miles of gravel or just bumping around the house makes all of the ridiculous 4 year old things easy to deal with.

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