I learned to ride a bike at the age of 6. At that time, we didn’t have Striders or any sort of balance bikes. We had training wheels, which for me my parents kept raising until they were only there for subconscious reinforcement. I remember the first time I truly rode a bike. Living in the small town of Ridgway, with all dirt roads, we had to travel 30 minutes away to an empty parking lot at a doctors office. It was there that I began to pedal, training wheel-less, with my dad’s hand holding my seat as I circled around the lot, slowly at first and then faster until I realized I was doing it on my own, that my dad had let go and was watching me proudly from the edge of the lot. It was obviously a memorable moment, and one that I envisioned sharing with my daughter as she grew.
As my mom often points out, I have unfairly lucked out in the daughter category. She spent years wishing I would have a child as difficult as I was so I could understand how hard it is to be a mom. Instead of birthing a temper tantrum throwing, shrieking, tornado of destruction like myself, I had Hailey. She has a heart of gold, humor, wit, and is the most adaptable and easy going child I have ever seen in my life. Until I put her on a bike.
Fast forward to her at 8, me picking up her (surprisingly heavy) Jamis Miss Daisy and hurling it as far as I could across the town park while she watched on, hands on tiny hips and a defiant look on her heart shaped (and usually smiling) face. This was the first time I discovered my daughter’s hidden, but very strong, stubborn streak. This was the end of 5 year battle to get her on a bike, and she won. I trudged home dragging her bike in defeat. The only thing I could tell her was that someday, possibly soon, when all her friends were going somewhere on their bike and she was left behind, she would be bummed. This fell on deaf ears, the bike went in the garage, and I let it go, at least outwardly.
Inside, I was sad. I wanted to share cycling with Hailey. I grew up spending every summer day on my bike. It was my first taste of freedom from reliance on my parents. My friends and I were all fit and healthy. I loved riding with my friends to the reservoir.
Luckily for me, my parents felt the same way. My dad is a cyclist, always has been, and it is actually the one sport my mom and dad both enjoy. Together we agreed they would work with Hailey on bike riding, while I stayed away. It was a struggle, I wanted to be a part of her learning, wanted to be the one with her in her memories. But I had to admit that I was not only inept at teaching my daughter, I actually was detrimental to the whole process. While I was away in Greenville for the Gran Fondo Hincapie last year, my aprents took her to the school parking lot and she began to ride a bike unassisted. I got to see the videos while waiting on my flight home. I was torn between the huge happiness and pride I felt for her and the sorrow deep in my chest that I wasn’t a part of that, and would never be the one she thought of when she remembered that day. But all in all, she was riding, and I was happy. It hasn’t been all easy going since that day. For every step forward, we take at least two back. Not riding all winter put her back, it took a lot to motivate her to try again in the spring. A couple little falls put some fear in her, and a summer at her dads without her bike made her confidence disappear. But as I mentioned, we live in an amazing place. And we have RAMS!
Ridgway Area Mountain Bike School (RAMS) is the evolution of a DEVO program started in our town. It is run by an after school program, and runs predominantly on the volunteering of parents and community members who want to help the next generation of cyclists. Divided by age group, and then by skill level, the kids are taught every aspect of mountain biking. Hailey started the season with basics at the pump track, ended the season with a 2 hour trail ride. The teachers are amazing! They built her confidence and skills in a way I never could have imagined. Last month, Hailey beat me home during a ride around town, I had to pedal my hardest to keep on her wheel. I was one proud mama!
I know that its easy to assume that cyclists want their children to ride to validate their own needs or wants, or that they are trying to live vicariously through them. But the truth is, we want our kids to ride because we want them to feel the absolute pure joy of it. We want them to see the places they will never see while in the seat of a car. We want them to find a way to stay active and healthy in a world that seems to be going further and further away from both those ideas. We want them to see and love nature in a way not possible while sitting in front of a computer or a tv screen.
I personally want my daughter to ride. I want her to mountain bike among wildflowers. I want her to ride alongside me up Dallas Divide as the aspens turn to a hue of gold that literally seems to glow in the fall sunlight. I want her to feel the strength that lies within her own body as she propels herself up the hill. And I want all the things for her that come from that: an appreciation of nature, a newfound respect for her body and its strength and capabilities, the desire to see new places, the ability to explore unknown terrain.
There are things I wish I had done differently. I wish I had put Hailey on a Strider, I wish I had ridden more when she was young so she could have seen the joy it brings, I wish I had more patience and could have been a part of her learning. But I can rest easy in knowing that she is in good hands. I love the community of cyclists, I am constantly amazed by the encouragement I receive within the sport. And I love the true desire to pass on these skills, to build a new generation of riders, to foster and instill the love of cycling in our youth. And I can’t say enough how lucky we are to live in an area that still values these ideas.
For those who want to help the effort to get kids on bikes, I encourage you to support Axel Project, which donates Strider bikes to school and youth programs. Feeling motivated? Help start a RAMS/DEVO style program in your area (I bet you will be surprised how many people will love this)!