Two Wheels on the Road…

SONY DSCI have had “buy Brett a bike” on my to-do list for months, and it has been the one item on there I have been reluctant to cross off.

He had one of those balance-type bikes, purchased by my mother a few years ago, where he could just scoot along and lift his feet and put them down as needed, and that was sufficient for a few years.

But he didn’t have pedals.

Or have a need to learn any skills to help him stay upright for any length of time.

You see we have a long, steep gravel driveway, with a scary hairpin turn in it. And we don’t have neighbors or neighboring kids for him to feel the need to keep up with and make him want to learn. Instead we have a river and trees behind us. We do cool things in our yard most other kids don’t do, right?

We fish.

We catch bugs and frogs.

We walk and stomp around in the river.

We skip rocks…. who needs a bike?

So my husband and I, as parents, slacked off and let it slide.

When we were in Montana last month, Brett met a new friend at the ranch named Asa and even though there were only gravel roads, Asa had this new bike he was extremely proud of, with big tires that worked just great on the dirt and gravel road. And it would have been nice if Brett could have joined him instead of having to just walk alongside him.

Asa is 9, and had great skill on his bike. Brett, at 8 1/2?

Note to self: when we get home, buy this kid a bike!

He needs to learn. Every kid needs to at some point, don’t they?

brett bike-001

Testing out the new bike at Grandma’s house with a paved road.

I finally did cross that chore off the list last week, on a trip to Rochester to visit my mother in law, where we found ourselves walking in front of a Dick’s Sporting Goods, with no excuse like: “I’m too tired” or “We don’t have time”.

I haven’t really thought much about riding on a personal level over the years.

I guess I liked riding my bike when I was a kid. I did grow up in suburbia, and had friends who rode around with us in the neighborhood. I have memories of riding with my brothers, chasing the ice cream truck.  I have one memory of falling and losing a tooth, and running home alongside my bike, blood gushing from my leg, but excited my fall would mean I would get a visit from the tooth fairy that night.

As an adult, not by design; maybe just by default, I have pursued outside activities involving my own feet, not wheels.

But when I do think about the sport, I think about my Dad.

When I was a kid, my father was always gone on Sunday. This was his day to take an epic bike ride with his friends.

I have always admired him for taking this time to do something he loved. Instead of being like one of the millions of Dads out there who had no hobbies, and just work work worked, and did what their wives told them to do, my Dad took that time for himself. He would stretch for a long time, maybe an hour,  and then head out. I’m sure he got a lot of flak from my mom because of this, since she had to stay home with 3 obnoxious kids by herself all day.

But he knew he needed this time for himself.

And he was able to stay in great shape this way and clear his head.

My parents moved to the bay area, south of San Francisco, in the mid-90s and on one of my first visits to see their new home and new town, my father drove me around to see some of his favorite bicycle routes. He would often go along these super windy roads, and along the bay. On many visits, we went up Kings Mountain Road, in Woodside CA, to go to the restaurant at the top. The first time he took me up there, as I complained I needed a Dramamine and felt sick from the curvy drive, my father told me this was one of the roads he would frequently ride on his bike.

What? You really ride your bike on this road?!

I remember saying “Dad, this road is going to be the end of you if you keep riding it…”

He just laughed. And continued riding along these roads he loved for years. And still, on Sundays.

But then 2 years ago, while at home in Vermont on Memorial Day weekend, I was just sitting down to a glass of wine after a long day in the garden when my mother called, hysterical.

My father was in the hospital.

He had an accident on his Sunday bike ride. She didn’t know much else.

It wasn’t on scary Kings Mountain road. It was another one.

We never learned what happened exactly, as there were no witnesses, but my brothers and I were told to get out to California immediately. The next day, I walked into Stanford Medical Center and found my father in a coma with traumatic brain injury. He died about a week later.

He was only 67.

I have been told, well, he died doing something he loved. And that’s true.

I try not to blame bicycling.

Just as I have tried not to blame Memorial Day weekend over these past 2 years. Because honestly, I have always loved Memorial Day weekend and do not want to demonize it for the rest of my life. I was told early on when I first met my husband that his mother lost someone she loved dearly on Thanksgiving, and has always hated Thanksgiving.

I adore my mother in law, but to hate a holiday for that long? I didn’t want to live the rest of my life that way.

Last summer, one year after losing my father, I was on vacation on Cape Cod and my family went off to do something else while I took the car to visit a few shops by myself. I had a few messages on my cell phone from my mother. Doesn’t she know I’m on vacation? I’ll call her later.

But then a text “Call me”.

So I pulled over to the side of the road to do just that.  I learned that it happened again. This time to my parents dear friend. Accident on his bike, he had been hit by a car and was was in the hospital.

And most certainly would not make it.

As you can imagine, it hasn’t been so easy for me to let bicycling off the hook, like I have been able to do with Memorial Day weekend.

When my son starts to ride a bike, will I get back on a bike too?

My motto these days has been to be open and willing to try new things.  Especially activities that take us outside and keep us moving.  When Brett learned to ice skate a few years ago, I put a pair of skates after 20-some-odd years. And I did fine.  And he has been learning to ski.  So last season I put skis on after a 10 year lapse. I had been so nervous I wouldn’t remember how, but once out there, I loved it.  I was proud of myself for taking that initial step to try again because now this will be an activity we both can enjoy.  Because that’s all it takes sometimes.  Just take that one step, and you aren’t nervous anymore.  You can move on from any emotional barriers.

But what about bicycling?

I can’t remember the last time I was on one, maybe in college? I should say yes, of course I will retry that, and Brett and I can ride together.

But still I hesitate.

At this time of year in Vermont, I see bicycles and cyclists everywhere.

Tour groups. Tourists. I see people of all ages riding along on our narrow windy back roads, with no room for cars and bikes to work together side-by-side.  This brings tears to my eyes more often than any other trigger. When I look at the faces of these cyclists, I see my Dad.  When my father visited us in Vermont, the first thing he did was go to the bicycle shop in Manchester and rent a bike for the week. He loved riding along and around Route 30 and visiting the little towns. Stopping at the country stores and chatting with whomever was inside. And snapping photo after photo of the farms, the flowers, the houses, the mountains…

And all I can think when I see these people is :

Why are they out there?

Do something else!

Don’t you know the roads are dangerous!

But as some friends reminded me yesterday, as they were headed out on a bicycle tour in the Finger Lakes:

“There is risk in anything and everything”

This morning I opened up the manual on Brett’s new bike, as I’m thinking we can start practicing this week. I see “Warning”. “Caution” every few lines.

Is this supposed to reassure me I’m doing the right thing?


Warning! Caution! Yikes!

I suppose not.

But I have ideas on where we can practice with no chance of seeing other cars or hazards.

And we’ll see how he does.

I think this year I’ll ask for new skis for the holidays, so Brett and I will be able to go more often and experience this sport together.

But we’ll wait and see whether I’ll hop back up on a bike.

I won’t say never, but maybe next year my head will be in the right place to take that initial step over the emotional barrier I still have with bicycling today.

Do you have any tough memories associated with activities, or times or places that you have a hard time getting over? How were you able to get over them? Are you glad you did?

Are there activities you have retried because of your kids or other family members?

I would love to hear your stories and comments.

12 thoughts on “Two Wheels on the Road…

  1. This reminds me of my brother-in-law, who had never been riding because his mother fell off a horse and cracked her skull at an early age. She had three children who grew up in rural Vermont, yet not one of them ever got near a horse because she was terrified to let them do so. My sister and I finally went riding with him (and instructors!) a few years ago during a trip to Ireland. He really liked it, and it was kind of sad because you could imagine it could have been a missed lifelong passion. Still though, one can completely understand being affected by these things, and making choices based on past experience. We are human after all!

    • Wow, so interesting. Thanks for your experience. I wonder if your brother in law has gone since then, so interesting. Horseback riding is a tough one–and actually one my hubby seems to be worried about! We have yet to put Brett on the horse but have had discussions and I think Tom is finally over it, so the next time we get the opportunity maybe we will.

  2. When I was young, living in rural Gloucestershire, England, I would ride my ‘proper’ bike everywhere. There wasn’t that much traffic on the roads, but back then, cars weren’t particularly fast and there were fewer of them. But _not_ riding a bike meant being stuck at home. My friends lived miles away. The river where I fished was miles away. But I learned how to fix the bike (tyres, chain, etc), kept it in good condition and did the Police Cycling Proficiency course (like driving lessons).

    Though back then I never wore a helmet or other protected gear. I rarely had lights when riding at night. I also never had an accident (well, excepting losing my front teeth in a tricycle accident when I was about 4).

    Later on, when I was an adult, I got back to cycling, though with a hybrid – semi off road bike. Purely for fitness, going on forest trails, etc, and wearing all the right gear. One day, I was on a road and was hit by a car on a roundabout. Driver didn’t see me, or even stop, but I did crack my helmet in two. Lucky escape.

    Again years later, I was living in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and of course everyone rides a bike. It would be weird not to. They have cycle lanes separate from roads and tramways. This is fine.

    But I wouldn’t ride a bike on public roads again. Especially not in London where I live now. There are some cycle pathways I might use, but where they mix with normal traffic, no.

    Recently I did some proper mountain biking on a stag (bachelor) weekend. 13 of us with two professional guides and some demanding, but dedicated bike trails.

    I’d do that again.

    But not on roads.

    If I was responsible for a small person, I’d probably encourage them to learn to ride, but to do it for exercise, in groups for visibility/safety, and not for simple transportation. If it became a passion for them to cycle (like your dad), then I wouldn’t object, I don’t think.

    • Wow, Adrian, thanks for your story. I’m so impressed after that horrific close call (my jaw dropped reading that…) you are able to see this objectively and on your own terms. I am encouraged maybe I can do the same….. great suggestion too about exercise only and not for transportation.

  3. I’m torn, too. I recently got my bike tuned up and ready to go, even though I haven’t ridden in almost 15 years. Both kids have bikes now, and I want to take them out. We live in a small town, but the roads are busy. Even the back roads make me nervous. I want to teach them to ride on them because I think it’s good for them to know, but I”m terrified myself. We’ve ridden in giant parking lots, but that’s it.

    I also recently bought a used bike trailer, figuring I could put my youngest in that when I go on the road. He recently got rid of his training wheels, but he’s not too stead yet, and he’s also too young and reckless to navigate traffic. But then I thought about him low to the ground in a trailer with cars whizzing by us and I got panicky — I had visions of a car knocking into the trailer and…well, I can’t even write it because it scares me too much.

    I’ve (half) jokingly told my husband since the kids were little — “They are never allowed to do ____ or ____ or ____ or ride on a ____ or jump off a ____ or….” I tell him to let me have my delusions that I will be able to make rules like this until they’re at least 30 and keep them from harm. I still want those delusions, desperately.

    • Tina, thanks so much for you note. How is it that whatever I write about we are so closely aligned in our thinking? Please keep me posted on what you end up doing and how it works for all of you…it may help us as we are just beginning this lovely journey. I love your mommy “delusions”….we all have them, don’t we?

  4. So sorry to read about your dad Robin. Our oldest was late to learn bike riding due to living on a very busy street and he only finally learned a 8 when we moved to a kibbutz. It’s not his thing, even though all his friends like to ride around. As for fears…wow… I have a lot and none I can count of are directly related to trauma. The closest one I have is food — yes food. I pretty much old my breath every time any of my kids eat a new food because of their food allergies. I hate it that food is no longer something I see as adventure or pleasure, but dangerous, but that’s how it is.

    • Ah Jen, thanks so much for your comment and sentiments. I remember now we have that one thing in common too–the food allergy thing. I live and breathe that fear everyday too, avoiding peanuts and nuts…it’s terrifying, and something not many others understand, that need to keep the kiddo’s closer to home than others feel is necessary.

  5. Oh Lord! I’ve never ridden bike (though my wife does) and stuggle with the idea of my own children riding on the roads. So far, they both seem to tend towards arts and drama and dance rather than sportiness and I can’t say I’m disappointed. But all of those occupations (don’t I know it from previous incarnations?!?) carry their own dangers. There’s a song by the band Low where the singer wishes that she could “keep you little body wrapped/in metal”. But we can’t.

    • Gabriel, thanks for your comment–yeah, I know, I think I need to hear that song and give that metal a try for a bit….since my boy is only 8, maybe I can keep him wrapped up for another year or so??? Growing up is kind of terrifying…

  6. My heart ached for you when I read this, Robin. There is no doubt that biking can be dangerous, so you are a wise mom to be cautious. I think kids wearing helmets and riding around their neighborhood with their friends is a lot different from serious biking on busy roads. Part of the problem is that most communities are not bike friendly. We need dedicated bike lanes in more places. That being said, there is risk in everything, and you don’t want your life or your child’s life to be ruled by fear. I grew up in Connecticut where nearly everyone ice skated. I was so afraid I would fall and get hurt, or at the very least have the other kids laugh at me, so I would stand on the edge of the pond with my skates on and never get out on the ice. I regret to this day that my fear kept me from doing something I think I would have loved.

    • thank you again. I know, it’s bad enough my son has a peanut allergy and has to worry about that hanging over his head, as right now he can’t be as independent as some kids when going places. So I need to encourage him to try new things. Biking is a tough one. I just heard a few days ago a man was hit down the road from us, he was ok thankfully, but yes…we need to have bike lanes! Your story about ice skating….yeah, I want to make sure there are no regrets. I hope you have tried it now that you are an adult??!

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