Every day is an adventure, especially when you're on a bicycle. This blog is for anyone who likes finding adventure in daily life, whether you find your adventure on a bicycle or not.
Friday, June 22, 2012
Learning to Ride a Bike (from Tales from the Bike Shop)
When I worked at UC Cyclery, I had the great fortune of being able to help newer riders work through their fears of getting on a bike. Here's Jake's story - one of my favorites - from June 2008. Jake - My Customer of the Day Jake came in today with his grandparents. Jake is eleven, and has not yet had his growth spurt. He's a good-natured, kind, loving kid, witnessed by his encouragement and support of his younger sister who also learned to ride a bike tonight, and his respect and love for his father. Jake is my customer of the day.
When he first came in with his grandparents and they told me that he needed a new bike, I turned and talked directly to Jake, and asked if he would like try an XS adult bike rather than a 24"-wheeled kid's bike. He was certainly big enough.
"No," he insisted, "I like this one better," he said as he moved timidly to the smaller bike that was clearly too small for him. Jake is a little pudgy, and probably not very active. I found out later that his grandfather, who is here on vacation from Montreal, rides a bike every day. I create an image in my mind of the grandfather who comes into town, discovers his sedentary overweight grandson, and determines to do something about it. So he drags him to the bike shop determined to get the boy on a bike. This is where come in.
"Well, if you like this [smaller] bike, let me take it to the mechanic so he can get it ready for a testride. How about that?" I ask Jake. "Oh, no. I don't need to ride it. It'll be fine," he tells me.
He's afraid of riding the bike.
"What's the thing that's keeping you from riding the bike?" I ask. He hesitates, then confesses, "Um, I have the wrong shoes."
I look at his shoes. He's wearing Crocs. "OK, so if you had better shoes, would that be OK?"
"Well... not really. I don't need to ride the bike..." I drag his main hesitation out of him. "I might fall," he says. "Well, what will happen if you fall?" I ask. "I dunno, I get hurt a little," he says. "And then what?" I ask. "Um, maybe I bleed..." he says, almost as a question. "Then what?" I ask, prodding him to look further. "I dunno..." he shrugs. "Do you get back on the bike?" I ask. "I dunno... I guess," he says, confused.
"So, the worst that can happen is that you fall, you get hurt, but then you get back on the bike. Right? Has that happened before?" I ask.
"Well, yeah, and it was really um, kinda scary," he confesses.
"OK," I tell him. "Well, that sounds really normal. Lots of people who fall and get hurt are afraid. I think everybody is. But, you know how that chocolate cream cake in the window of the bakery looks soooo good, but it never really tastes as good as we think it will?" "Um, yeah..." he says. "Well, things are always exaggerated in our minds. The desserts always taste better, and the falls always seem more painful, but it's never as intense in reality as it is in our minds. Right?" "Wow. I guess so," he says.
"So, if I gave you some elbow and knee pads that I have in my car, so it wouldn't hurt if you fall, and if you came back here in better shoes, would you take a test ride?"
He searches for a flaw in my argument, but can find none. I assure him that with elbow and knee pads, he will not get hurt, that I fall all the time and I'm OK. He agrees to come back later in the day with his father.
Meanwhile, his grandmother has stood and listened to this exchange in something akin to awe. She asks me how long I will be at the shop today. I tell her till 8pm.
I help Jake choose a helmet, one with colors he likes, and set it aside for him. He and his grandparents leave, and I all but forget about them until almost 7pm, when they return to the shop, this time with Dad, Grandad, and the younger sister Abby, who is about seven.
Jake is ready for the ride now. He readily dons the elbow pads and knee pads that I retrieve from my trunk. I show him how to put his pedal at 2 o'clock for maximum impetus. But despite all my coaxing and coaching, he begins to get discouraged, has almost half a dozen false starts and suddenly cries in frustration, "I can't!" I ask him for one more good effort, and this time, I hold him steady as he pedals a few strokes in the parking lot. He comes to a stop, his eyes wide.
"Wow. I almost did it," he says, amazed. "Yes! You did! Do it again!" I tell him.
He starts again, and this time, I let go, allowing him to ride by himself. He does it. He comes to a stop triumphant in front of his father. "Dad!! I did it!!" he calls.
This kid has not been on a bike since he was five years old. His dad is really trying to contain himself, while I hold nothing back and literally jump up and down and give Jake a high-five. It is now that I tell him he should try the XS adult bike.
"You think I can?" he asks.
"Dude! You looked so good on the 24"-bike, I think it's really going to be a better fit..." I tell him. I glance at the father, who takes a deep breath and purses his lips. He really wants his son on the bigger bike, but knows he can't push him.
Jake gets on the XS Hardrock and rides it like a champ. "I'm doing it!! I'm doing it!!"
These are the moments that make my job sweet. My day can hardly get any better at this point. A boy who was afraid of bikes now can't wait to go ride the new one he will be getting.
The father looks at me and says, "So, Abby here has never ridden a bike. Can you teach her too?"
I prepare a 20-inch girls bike with coaster brakes for Abby. She is fearless, and although she has several false starts, she takes instruction well and is soon riding well, as long as she doesn't have to turn or brake... which will come in time.
Amusingly, Jake has been attempting to coach her with his new-found knowledge as one who has *ahem* been riding longer than her. His dad quiets him, telling him, "Let Laura tell her..."
After Abby has mastered starting and stopping, and Jake tells her what a fine job she's done, I turn to Jake and say, "Your sister has learned very well from your example." He smiles.
"She probably learns a lot from you, right?" I ask. "Well, sure," he admits. "Do you know what you can learn from her?" I ask him. "What?" he asks. "She had a number of false starts, and messed up a lot of times..." I say. "Haha... yeah," he laughs. "But she never got discouraged, did she?" I ask him. His smile fades, as he realizes this. "She knows it's OK to make mistakes. You could try to learn that from her," I tell him with an encouraging smile. He casts his eyes down, then looks back at me and nods with a tight-lipped smile.
God bless him, I too am a first-born who has to get everything RIGHT the first time!! My younger brother was always messing up, but it never mattered for him. If only I had been able to learn from him early on, and see his flexibility to get it wrong as a strength...
Haha... somewhere along the way I developed this compulsive need to make it easier on subsequent generations, seeking out first-borns and letting them know it's OK NOT to get it right the first time.
Today, Jake was my customer of the day, for his spirit, courage, and intellectual fortitude.
Update - I ran into Jake's father at UC Cyclery one Sunday afternoon in 2011 when I happened to stop by the shop. He said Jake was riding his bike often, and Jake's sister commented that he was "really good, too."