Two Wheelers

After a very long, hard struggle involving mis-teaching, panic, fear, anger, and desire, my daughter can now, at twelve, ride a two-wheeler. Your long dark nightmare is over, I told her. This was a long time coming. She was set up badly in the early days by grandma ‘helping’ – which is to say, pushing. […]

After a very long, hard struggle involving mis-teaching, panic, fear, anger, and desire, my daughter can now, at twelve, ride a two-wheeler.

Your long dark nightmare is over, I told her.

This was a long time coming. She was set up badly in the early days by grandma ‘helping’ – which is to say, pushing. Olivia would ride around in grandmas back yard on her first adorable little red training-wheeled bike. Olivia would steer, grandma would push. They did this for about two years while telling me ‘Olivia can ride her bike’, only, Olivia could not ride at all. Somehow this set in poor O’s mind the notion that bikes should go without any pedal action at all. She’s been fighting this ever since.

We’ve tried – first by buying her a couple of cool bikes, then by offering rewards and bribes. The training wheels and coaster brakes, which should have made it easy, made it harder because she would stop peddling each time the bike started to go. The old habit would kick in, and she’s stop, and then bike would stop, or worse, flip.

Each and every time, no matter who worked with her, she’s wind up in panicked tears.

This weekend, a beautiful, sunny weekend, she found the place in herself where desire and anger overcame fear; she wanted to try again. And so her mother’s bike came out of the garage – a brilliantly well-styled bike but frankly not a good bike for a beginner. And it looked like we had the usual taped replay, fear and panic driving Olivia, making her stop and give up every time the bike began to move. Olivia had the skills. We could see it. She could ride. But fear overcame all, and each time she hit that point that every bike rider knows by instinct, the point where you kick the pedal and the bike stabilizes, she’d instead drop her feet to the ground or worse, back-pedle the coaster brakes; and she’d go down, and sob in frustration at why the bike won’t stay up.

We had a melt-down, sobbing, anger, frustration. I’m not fearless like you guys! she sobbed.

And I sat with her, my arm around her as she sat in the seat in her grand-mother’s borrowed van, the sun on the back of my neck, and I talked to her about fear and anger and desire; about the things we all fear, about the fears adults have they won’t admit to. And I told her it isn’t about not being afraid; it’s about not letting the fear win. It’s about letting the desire, or the anger be stronger than the fear, about getting angry and saying, i won’t let you beat me. And when she found that in herself, she’d push instead of giving in.

She cried, and then came back, and wanted to try again. So I got out my beat up old bridgestone mountain bike, which I haven’t ridden in ten years, and I said, stop yelling, stop crying, stop arguing, stop talking, stop moving, and just sit and watch me. And I peddled around, stopped, started, turned, just showed her how the bike tips and wobbles, but STAYS UP WHEN YOU PEDDLE.

And she sobbed, and said she couldn’t. And in two and three foot increments, we worked our way up my street, her failing over and over. And, for the first time, though her face grew red and she began to cry, she didn’t let it win. She got angry, but instead of stopping and screaming and arguing about how she couldn’t and why she couldn’t, she did what I’d told her, what her mother’s told her, what friends have told her, and looked ahead, not down, and saw where she wanted the bike to go, and peddled when she felt like stopping, and suddenly, the bike was moving. And I was peddling along side her, watching for cars, and telling her, that’s in, you’re riding – faster now, faster, faster! and she argued with me; don’t say faster, that makes me want to go slower, so I said go slower go slower and she argued with that as well; but she was peddling as she argued, distracted and letting the instinct to peddle take over.

And that was it. All the way to the end of the street and back. She faltered and stumbled and fell, but she got back on and needed no help, and while she’d whimper I’m sorry and why am I so stupid each time, she got back on and beamed when she started to move again. We rode to grandmas house, to the local grade school, me peddling a bike with three working gears out of twenty-one and barely any brakes, her peddling that beast of a cruiser, far too big and heavy for her. And we didn’t want to stop.

I made her a promise years ago, that the day she rode, she could go get a bike, any bike she wanted. And I would have done that, even if she’d demanded this one, or the one for which I lust in my heart, this one. But she listened to the bike store guy, and listened to me when I told her those bikes are cool but they don’t work that well for the hilly terrain where we live, that they’re big and heavy and hard to carry around (all the reasons I don’t own that beautiful 8-ball bike). She listened because she felt strong and didn’t need to make a fuss.

She tried a couple of really cool-looking bikes, and struggled, and then she got on this bike at the store, took it around the parking lot, and knew instantly that she could ride this thing.

And so it’s hers, the Raleigh Passage 3.0.


Not flaming red or cobalt blue or whatever her favorite color is this week. Not styly or hip. She went with the choice of fit and function over an amazingly-colord bike she tried first. She never fussed, or second guessed. Black goes with everything she said, and couldn’t wait to get it home.

When you’re that age, bikes represent freedom. The world just opened up to her. The library, the bookstore, the local hangouts. Starbucks and the local mall. She can get there. She’s not ready now, but she sees the distance shrink. She sees the world, unreachable yesterday, drawing close to her, like space warping. She’s asking me, can we rent bikes, next time we go to Hawaii, or Fiji, or Turk and Caicos? Can we ride to the local Sushi place instead of driving? Can we go out now, please, right now. She doesn’t care that she’s covered in bruises from falling, that her butt hurts from the seat, that she’s got odd sore muscles in her legs. She wants to move and not stop moving.

And I remember that feeling. Like my daughter, I was a big, slow kid. I was strong; I was an ox. But I was slow and clumsy. The bike changed that, letting the strength in my legs compensate for my size. I could race my friends, and while I didn’t usually win, I never came in last. I could move and go. Freedom and power.

I stood there in that bike shop and looked at the bike she’d chosen, and looked at the killer sale price, and started mentally adding up how much it was going to cost me to get my mountain bike working. I added up the parts and the effort and the time and then looked at her riding and I said to the clerk, hey, can I try this one?

And unexpectedly, I came home with the big brother to Olivia’s bike. Again, not the 8-ball, not the Rat Fink. Not the $1200 full-shock mountain bike. No flames, but an embarrassingly grown-up metal-flake silver. But it got me out on the road without letting me build road-blocks to impede myself. And it got me out, peddling, instead of sitting on my ass playing Resident Evil, or fooling around at my computer, not writing nor working, just killing time. It got me out in the sunshine (note to self – remember a hat next time), sweating. It got me remembering how much I like being on two wheels. And it got me doing something with my kids that I remember doing with my parents.

Let’s Ride.

10 thoughts on “Two Wheelers”

  1. Good for Liv!

    Zach and I have a date with his bike and a wrench, to take off his training wheels. His best friend graduated yesterday, and they rode bikes up and down the street all day during the block party, but I wasn’t able to work with him.Today, maybe, or tomorrow.

  2. Damn, that is well written. Shows Pride, joy and love. Made me smile just to read it. I so enjoy reading about the little things in life that really are worth living, and that was one to remember. My eldest learned to ride her bike in the middle of a Texas heat wave. Triple digits. And I’m struggling to teach my youngest now how to ride- and she likes to panic and come to a stop.

    I understand, and that’s a wonderful story.

  3. I have tears in my eyes. Give Olivia a BIG hug and kiss for me. And I am very proud of you for being the one to help her see…

  4. Awesome!

    Enjoy it while you can, dad. Three more years til she gets to take driver’s ed.

    Cassidy had the same trouble with the bike, until her brother got his training wheels off when he was 4, and she decided that being showed up by a punk pre-schooler was no way to go through life. Now she wants a motorcycle.

  5. This is totally fucking awesome. I needed to read something like this. Maybe something exactly like this. I just wanted to stop by and say thanks.

  6. Hi Ray. I drop by every now & then to see what you’re up to. I don’t normally comment, but this is such a beautiful story. I sat at my computer & cried. Thankyou. Happy cycling…..

  7. Ah, I remember that first moment when you realize you’re moving through space on your own and you aren’t falling…it feels like…like…

    LIke they’ve cued that “You Can Fly!” song in Peter Pan just for you…

    In my own transitioning-to-two-wheeler story, my dad was also the one who was there with me, helping me get to that amazing moment of victory and freedom. Trust me, your daughter’s always going to remember the experience you just described above, and how you helped her get to that moment, and the look of happiness and pride on your face when she “got it” for the first time and was moving on her own. Even when you’re gone from this world, she’ll remember the feeling of that moment as being related to you. It’s a gift you both get, that.

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