I can clearly remember learning to ride a bike: I first pedalled unaided in a small park in a small town in the midlands when I was about 4 or 5 years old. I might not be able to recall the exact time or location, but I can picture it in my mind like I was there yesterday. I can still see the tall cast-iron gates of the park, the tarmac path winding gently downhill below the overhanging willows, bushes to one side and grassy park to the other. I remember my dad laughing at my expression when I realised I’d cracked it. The feeling of exhiliration I experienced that day must have made a big impression to have created such indelible memories.
This week I had the pleasure of teaching someone else to ride – a 10 year old local lad who’d been struggling to get going for the last couple of years and had been dissuaded from trying by taunts from his mates who could already ride.
At first he struggled to even balance the bike whilst stood astride it, and was completely lacking confidence in his ability to make progress. We started slowly, with me supporting him at walking pace, pointing out how balance is achieved by steering into the fall, and gradually speeded up to the point where I was running alongside and struggling to keep up. In the end, it only took about an hour to get him pedalling unaided, and another half hour for him to conquer turns and gears. (Mind you, his braking technique still needs a little work!)
Teaching someone else to ride got me thinking about how sometimes we take cycling for granted. Imagine you never learned to ride a bike – perhaps the opportunity might not be there, as it isn’t for many kids all over the world. (Recently at Coed y Brenin we had an army group with some African recruits – one of the guys there was in his twenties and had never ridden a bike before. He soon picked it up and had an awesome day on the trails)
As a regular rider it’s easy to be complacent about cycling. You become obsessed with the bikes and equipment you’re riding, or focus solely on the quality of the ride from a performance perspective. Often there’s very little thought about the simple pleasure of riding itself. Even the scenery can become just a blur as you speed along.
It’s also easy to forget just what a thrill it was to learn to ride and to first ride alone. That feeling of freedom when, as a kid, you realise that you can go pretty much anywhere – distance becomes (almost) no object. You’re finally in control of where you go and when you go there. I remember long lost summer holidays spent cycling all over the county – into the city and out into the country. No-one seemed to worry about us getting lost, and we rarely seemed to get any punctures.
Over the years since I first learned to stay upright on two wheels I’ve ridden many thousands of miles. I’ve raced, toured, and commuted on a whole plethora of different bikes, across many different countries. I’ve coached people to improve their mountain biking skills, and taught kids how to ride safely on the roads. All in all, my life has been pretty much dominated by the bicycle.
This week though, working with a young lad just starting to ride, reminded me that possibly the greatest gift I ever received was being taught to ride a bike. Thanks Dad.