My youngest is learning how to ride a bike this summer after spending years being pulled behind me on a trail-a-bike. She was never terribly interested in a tricycle or a balance bike, or even in her two-wheeler with training wheels. She really hasn't had much need or opportunity – her big brother rides confidently, and she has been content to tag along behind as we use our bikes for much of our transportation. She happily cruises behind me, looking around, singing songs and enjoying the scenery. She makes a considerable contribution to the pedaling power when I need her to, but for the most part, it’s a fairly passive, enjoyable place for her to be.
Riding on her own feels scary to her. When attached to me, she doesn’t have to balance, steer, or control the speed. As she's learned, we’ve moved from the soft turf on the school yard to the protected recreation path to the obstacle course of our neighbourhood streets. Each phase has been met with apprehension, uncertainty and fear. Last night she ended up walking her bike home, too scared to finish the ride.
Bicycling is such a joy for me. It’s a way to fit vigourous physical activity into my day, to unwind when I feel agitated. I immerse myself in the changing of the seasons as I commute to work through one of Toronto’s many ravines. I feel good about the small role I play in keeping our environment healthy. It’s important for my mental health. And I love that my kids take it for granted, knowing that biking is a part of our lives.
And it can be scary sometimes, and dangerous. It’s important to pay attention to the world around you, balancing being assertive with being appropriately cautious and smart. Sometimes you push hard, increasing your heart rate and dripping with sweat; sometimes it’s a leisurely spin with the breeze on your face. It’s not always the easy option, but there are typically SO many benefits to taking the harder path. And as my daughter is realizing, sometimes you have the wide open road with the wind at your back, level and smooth. And sometimes life puts garbage bins in your way on an uphill slog, or on a downhill slope that feels too fast to be safe. It's important to not let fear stop us. We need to learn how to maneuver around those bins, to persevere up the hill, and to know how and when to apply the brakes, ringing our bell to communicate with others where we're at. We all start out attached to someone else, learning at their knee, letting them lead us and take control. Eventually we have to step out on our own, being brave, taking incrementally bigger steps toward operating confidently in the world.