What I Learned From Being Late Learning How To Ride A Bike
I loved my training wheels… too much.
As the end of summer starts to subtly peek at us from around the corner, we’re all scrambling to knock out as much of that summer to-do list as possible. One thing that has been on our family’s list is to register our kids for a youth triathlon.
Nothing crazy — we’re not those parents — but one of those “races” that just lets them swim a lap, ride a bike around a path, and then run across a field. I mean, they do all these things anyway, so let’s go do it with a bunch of other kids at some park and then get a t-shirt.
I’m looking online at some options to see how far each age group has to swim, bike, and run. I naturally start to assess my kids’ abilities in these areas. My newly 5YO might be a little young for the swimming and biking, but my 8YO is good to go for all this. He’ll love it.
Back in my day
When I was 8 years old, my bike was a bright red Huffy and it was amazing. All red…even the tires were red. I don’t remember ever naming it but goddammit I should have. It was the appropriate amount of “too big” for me and Tony, from across the street, and I would ride around all day.
But here’s the thing, I still had training wheels on. I know…I know…I was eight years old and still rocked training wheels, but whatever. We didn’t have those awesome balance bike things like kids do now.
Even back then I knew I was late learning how to ride a bike, but if you were a kid that was going to make fun of me about it, then I most likely didn’t like you very much and wasn’t going to ride with you anyway. Punk.
My dad did a cool thing to my training wheels, though. He bent them outwards, so instead of rolling on the ground even and flush to my rear tire, they stuck out a little so I could still turn with some speed and learn how to lean into it a little bit. So, really, they only hit the ground when I was turning.
Honestly, though, I didn’t even need them at all.
It’s all in my head
I admit I kept those training wheels on for waaaaaaay longer than I needed to. They weren’t getting in my way at all. Tony and I would build ramps and jump them everyday. Our neighborhood at the time was young so there were a lot of homes in the process of being built (read: huge mountains of dirt that demanded to be conquered), so we had our pick of where to go and what to ride. It was the best.
Full disclosure: We didn’t have…um…well…wear helmets and most of the ramps we built were sketchy at best. A constant stream of poor decisions. Childhood.
Then one day it happened
I was going the perfect speed, I hit the ramp right on point, and pulled up at the exact perfect time. Those of you who know, know what I’m talking about. It was as clean a jump as you could get.
When I landed, and before I could scream, “Yeaaaahhhhh!”, one of my training wheels busted and fell off. Cracked perfectly in half. I wiped out and tumbled a little bit. Got back up, laughed it off and I am sure there were some high fives involved. I wiped out a lot even with training wheels. A LOT. They were more of a psychological crutch than a physical one. They didn’t help all that much, but the knowledge that they were there did.
But here’s the thing: If your training wheel busted off because of how hard you landed when full-speed jumped a sick ramp you and Tony made in the new lot down the street, then maybe you don’t need the damn training wheels any more, man.
It was time
We took the training wheels off that afternoon. It was a family affair, too. My sisters and my parents were out there all excited that I was ready. I took a few laps around the driveway as everyone watched. I recall being excited, kind of embarrassed, but mostly excited. When you’re 8 years old, it’s a big deal and nothing was ever going to be the same again.
There’s two sections of life: The part when you need training wheels and the part you don’t.
This was a rite of passage, and I knew it even then.
What are you training for?
They’re called training wheels, but why? In what, exactly, are you being trained?
Looking back, for me, I kept my training wheels on because I knew that I wasn’t learning how to ride a bike — I already knew how to do that. I think I kept those on because I was learning how to fall and be ok with it.
They don’t make training wheels for building a business, or raising children, or starting a new job, so maybe it’s best to remember that falling is going to happen whether you have those training wheels on or not. They’re not there to make sure you never crash, but instead to teach you how to crash.
Once we learn how to wipe out and then get back up, we should be prepared to take on anything. Enjoy the ride, hit the launch point, and pull at the right time. Crash or not, you went for it.
And that deserves figurative high-fives — or real ones if Tony just happens to be standing right there.