Our daughter Lauren was first introduced to life in a family of cyclists by riding in our old yellow and red Burley, which is a pull-behind trailer, snugly fastened in her baby carrier. She soon grew into toddlerhood, and the baby carrier was replaced with pillows, books, stuffed Beanie Baby cats, juice, and snacks. All these items had to be present in order for her to be agreeable about getting in the Burley. If any ingredient was missing, we might be far away from home and hear an insistent little voice coming from behind her Dad’s bicycle, “I’m hungry!” or “I want something to drink!” The insistent little voice had no patience for the fact that her father had to find a safe place to stop, pull over, and meet her important demands. It was just easier to have everything packed in the elastic Burley pockets so she could help herself. The pinnacle of her Burley experience occurred one year we participated in the Moonlight Classic ride, a night ride beginning and ending in downtown Denver. We packed the Burley as usual so she’d be happy, with the addition of a lantern hanging from one of the interior support bars of the Burley. She got a lot of attention in the middle of the night from fellow riders and onlookers as she happily snacked on goldfish crackers and read her books by lantern light while we pedaled along. She was in love with this arrangement.
But growing too big for the Burley meant that it was time for Lauren to learn to ride her own bike. This was not exactly how she planned to participate in her family’s favorite activity. Pedal on her own? Keep up with her older brother? Impossible! (The latter is certainly true, none of us can keep up with him). That would mean exercise and (gasp) work!
We collectively set out to try to teach and encourage Lauren to ride her bike. We bought her the quintessential pink sparkly girly bike with training wheels, which she liked to look at and play with, filling the polka dot basket with either stuffed cats or real cats. As long as she didn’t have to get on the bike herself, she liked it just fine, thank you very much. Her brother Dan, who was about 8 at the time, did his best to cheer her on, running alongside her on the patio, and even helping her push her foot down on the pedals when she couldn’t get going. Teaching her wasn’t easy. There were a few tears. There was even more whining. But mostly there was a lot of just-not-interested. We lamented to ourselves that she might not really get the hang of it and if she did, she probably wouldn’t be joining us on rides.
It was ok with us if she didn’t want to be a cyclist like the rest of us; to each his own after all. We finally decided we only wanted her to simply learn how, just as a life skill she should have. What she did after that was up to her. She reluctantly did learn how, and that was the end of her bike-riding days for several years.
Lauren watched her brother become immersed in cycling throughout his high school years. He got a job at a bike shop at 15, and continued to work there until he graduated. He commuted to work and school year-round, defying weather and gas prices. He mountain-biked several times a week, raced a little bit, and talked a lot about bikes in general, all the time. A running joke at our house was, “Dan says, if [insert personal or world problem here], ride your fixed gear.” In other words, riding was the solution to everything. This constant barrage of bike talk and culture between her brother and parents must’ve rubbed off on her. Last summer she decided she wanted to dip her toes into the world of bikes, so she started to ride a bit with him. First it was just around the neighborhood, then maybe to the nearby gas station, then to the grocery store. It soon became clear that the years of worn-out hand-me-down bikes from Dan were over and Lauren needed her own bike.
We surprised her last summer with her very own, brand-new Trek 7.2 city bike, a perfect all-around choice for her, and found on sale, easy on our wallet in case things didn’t work out. Suddenly, a whole new world opened up for her. She discovered she could ride by herself to the store to get her own snacks anytime she wanted (some things never change). She discovered she didn’t have to wait for someone to give her a ride somewhere, she could just go. She discovered that sweet taste of freedom that is so very unique to cycling.
Recently, Lauren, now 16 and on the cusp of getting her driver’s license, was at our church helping her youth group when I received a text asking to ride to a friends’ house. I OK’d the trip and asked her to text me when she got there, knowing that she had a couple of busy streets to cross. My phone beeped upon her arrival and she wrote, “It was fun!” I re-read those words several times, smiled, and jokingly replied, “Who is this and where is my daughter?”
Turns out she discovered the very best thing of all about cycling. It was fun. That’s the beautiful, simple joy about being on one’s bike that we never expected she would experience, and we’re so happy for her. She tells me she wants to keep riding even after she gets her driver’s license. I hope she does; for either transportation, enjoyment, or both.
Welcome to cycling, Lauren. It IS fun. And you can have snacks.