Cycling: fun, healthy and good for the environment, so clearly an important life skill that I am obliged to impart to my young charges.
But nobody told me quite how much work would be involved. Let me just talk you through our ‘learn to cycle’ history step by step:
We started a little late on the cycling trail, having taken some time to graduate from the push-along plastic trike and then failing to jump immediately in to the world of big bikes.
Although, now I come to think about it, I must mention Ana’s first foray into cycling where she sat bawling her eyes out when we decided to try her in the seat on the back of Mike’s bike for the very first time on a New Forest camping holiday. An hour of cycling through the beautiful forest, peace and tranquility destroyed by the piercing shrieks and racking sobs of our 9 month old infant, was enough to crush our dreams of idyllic family cycle rides and the recurrent flashbacks to this moment may well have explained the ensuing delay in bicycle purchase.
Anyway, one year, just before Christmas we had a tax rebate (the kind of luck that rarely comes our way, but was very welcome) and, feeling unusually flush, we decided to buy Ana a big girl’s bike. I poured over pictures of fabulous bikes with sparkles, and tassels, and baskets, and seats for cuddly bears and imagined how lovely it would be when Ana could cycle happily along on her own.
At this point Ana was 5 but – you know – she wouldn’t be 5 forever and we didn’t want to have to upgrade immediately, so we made our first bad decision and bought a bike that was too big for her, but that she could ‘grow in to’. For ‘grow in to’ read ‘won’t be able to actually use properly for about a year’. And so, despite the addition of stabilisers and some cautionary elbow and knee pads, bike riding did not get off to a great start in our household.
Roll on another year and a now 6 year old Ana was big enough to actually make a start on bike riding. We duly bought a second-hand bike from a friend for Faith (no tax rebate that year) and decided to get the girls cycling.
It all seems so easy for other people. A friend’s son was cycling like a pro after a weekend practising up and down a quiet street with his dad, but for us, it seemed the ordeal would never end. Every so often we would steel ourselves, put the bikes in the car and head to the park to spend 30 minutes running up and down holding on to the back of a bike seat. Every hunched-over minute was increasingly torturous and quickly made it seem it likely that I would never be able to stand upright again. Naturally, my irritability increased in line with my physical discomfort so that 20 minutes in I was snapping at both children and wishing I had never suggested this as a ‘fun, family activity’. Inevitably the trip would end with a significant fall from at least one child and the sight of blood would be guaranteed to leave Faith screaming with fear of possibly medical intervention (see previous post on her fear of doctors).
So far, so disastrous…stress-free family cycling still seemed a long way off.
Given that the odd Sunday afternoon had failed to produce any significant improvements, I reasoned that the extended summer holidays would provide ample opportunity to hone my children’s cycling skills, so over the past 2 summers, I have made it one of the key items on my list of things to do in August.
Essentially, this has involved one (possibly two) days where we headed out happily into the sunshine, pushing the bikes round the corner to a quiet cul-de-sac all set to master the art of cycling.
But our cheerful optimism was generally misplaced and now, on my own, the task of running up and down a road holding on to the back of a bike seat as first one child and then the next wobbled their way down the street narrowly avoiding the cars parked on each side, quickly lost its appeal and, once again, we ended the outing grumpy, irritable, scraped and aching, no closer to the goal of cycling proficiency than when we had set out.
And so, we roll round to this summer. My children are now 6 and 8 and, by rights, should be able to competently ride a bike (or at least they would, if they had more diligent parents) so, in an effort to redress my parenting inadequacies, I made it my top priority to have them both cycling with confidence by the end of the summer. To this end, I insisted that we squish both bikes into an already over-packed car, when we headed off on our summer holiday to Cornwall.
Things started poorly when we discovered that the bikes (left unused and unloved in the garden for almost a year) were not in the best condition. On top of the extensive rust, both bikes had failing brakes and, when Mike went to pump up Ana’s back tyre, it responded to the unexpected demands by promptly exploding. This necessitated a trip to the local bike shop for a replacement inner tube and then (despite a distinct lack of brakes all round) we were ready to go.
Surprisingly, on this occasion, the cycling went remarkably well, with both children quickly making progress, reducing my efforts from back-breaking seat-holding torture, to the blissful state of leaving them to it, popping outside every now and then to check no-one had crashed and burned. ‘By Jove, we’ve cracked it!’ I thought gleefully but I was to discover that a solid week of cycling does not a cyclist make…
This morning, two weeks after our return from Cornwall during which time the bikes have, once again, lain unused in the garden, I confidently suggested a quick cycle up and down our road expecting both girls to exhibit the same level of skill they had shown only 2 weeks before. But after 15 minutes of hesitant, wobbly manoeuvring followed by the ubiquitous blood-spurting injury, I began to realise that the old adage may not apply in the case of my children. For us, it would seem, the phrase ‘it’s just like riding a bike’ implies an insurmountable level of difficulty, rather than an easily recalled skill.
Despite (or maybe because of) my infrequent efforts, we may still be a way off ‘proficiency’ where cycling is concerned!