My Reluctant Biker.
I must start by saying that I live in a mountain town with a 20-mile long bike path and 400 miles of perfect single-track trails. I consider myself to be outdoorsy and I am an avid mountain biker, trail-runner, skier and multi-day river rat among other things.
My assumption was that my daughter would just follow suit because that is the lifestyle we lead. What has become abundantly clear over the past 9 years is that children have their own plans and parenting is just a lesson in patience and acceptance.
We first introduced our daughter to a balance bike when she was 2. She looked at it and walked away.
We got a different balance bike when she was 3. She stood over it and decided it wasn’t for her.
We continued regular exposure to balance bikes of various shapes and sizes over several years determined to avoid the dreaded “training wheel stage” – gasp. We even let her paint her bike. Despite what looks like apparent joy in the photo below, she rode about 10 feet.
When she was 5, we watched our daughter roll down the street for the first time on the neighbor’s beast-of-a-bike well supported by training wheels chattering on either side. It wasn’t long before that bike just lay dormant in the backyard too.
And so it continued, each year trying a variety of bikes with and without training wheels, and each bike being met with resistance. This past spring, faced with yet another bike-rideless summer, we decided it was time to try a different bike again and this time we were ready to invest in a “nice” bike.
We got our light-weight, 8-gear, hand-braked Prevelo Alpha 3 (see the TMM full review here!) and we have been biking (without training wheels) ever since! One night we were bribing our daughter to make it a quarter mile lap around the block on her Trek Mystic with training wheels and the next night we watched her zoom effortlessly around the block on her new ride.
Why did the bike make a difference…my daughter describes it best:
“It was really scary to brake on my old bike because I had to pedal backwards to stop and couldn’t put my feet out when I was slowing down. My bike now is so much easier to ride because I can actually squeeze the handbrakes and pedaling is fun because it goes super-fast. It’s so easy and makes me want to ride bikes.”– Brooke, age 8
While I certainly can’t say that biking is my daughter’s favorite activity, I am happy that we can ride our bikes together around town and on the bike path. I also can’t say that the “nice” bike was the sole reason that we finally found success this year, but I certainly helped. Here are a few things I have learned throughout my journey with our reluctant rider.
Our daughter likes to feel in control of her body at all times which makes learning sports uniquely challenging. With biking, balance, speed, and even the feel of the surface she was riding on, were hurdles to overcome. We found a smooth surface and nice hand-brakes that she could squeeze easily, were important factors that made her feel in control.
Our daughter is timid and slow to warm up to change of any sort. It takes many, many exposures to something to get to a point of comfort. For many years, we would consider it a WIN when our daughter even went near a bike. Don’t give up!
Destinations or Goals Along the Way.
Our most successful outing was a 7-mile ride looking for the “planets in the solar system” which were painted along the bike path. Fun destinations or a scavenger hunt along the way can make the ride into an adventure!
This kind of goes without saying, but make every bike experience fun, even if the whole outing only lasts 5 minutes. Full disclosure, in our family, fun sometimes comes in the form of Unicorn Poop (gummy worms).
Having a friend along for a ride can sometimes help motivate, but in our situation, it was less productive because our daughter felt like she couldn’t keep up. Often times, she would ditch the bike and start running! Know your child and invite friends accordingly.
Acceptance of where your reluctant rider is at in the learning process.
All kids are different, and while my friend’s kids were pulling wheelies when they were 2, my child was sitting in her hammock reading a book. Allowing children to be true to themselves yet providing loving exposure to experiences takes a heaping full of patience.
Meet Jenna, friend of TMM:
Jenna Vagias is a life-long adventurer who has found a way to make a living out of playing (most days). As Director of Recreation for Blaine County in Southern Idaho, Jenna spends her time ensuring that people of all ages get outside and stay active! Jenna strives to practice what she preaches and can be found mountain biking, trail running, skiing, camping, and hammock napping. Multi-day river trips are essential to her mountain town family which includes her husband and daughter.
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