Heavy Spillage on the Birthday Ride

Bear with me, for I’m still blogging about September, now we’re up to the 21st. One of my eldest son’s friends was so proud of his new bike that he wanted to have a ride with his chums to celebrate his birthday. His father being the avid cyclist that he is, was naturally delighted with that idea, and when he explained the idea to me I volunteered to help out with haste – even though I had not been asked. My eldest son, is by a long way the youngest child in his year – in fact his pal who’s birthday it was is almost a full year older than him. You may recall that he had only learned to ride a few weeks ago, and at that time was not yet tall, or confident enough to ride his BMX. Consequently I found myself helping load his bike onto the top of the minibus and suddenly realising his wheels were half the size of his peer-group’s.

We drove down narrow country lanes – heading out towards radstock to join up with the Collier’s Way. This is an old railway line that has been given over to a cycle and walking path. The minibus duly crushed as far into the hedge as we could get it, we unloaded kids and bikes and set about the perilous task of managing a group of overexcited 5-7 year olds as they prepared to race off into the distance. It was a truly lovely day weatherwise, unseasonably warm, blissful after the wet and windy summer the U.K. has endured.

It quickly became apparent that all three adults were needed as the group became strung out. Like the old drovers or a group of cowboys, we needed one at the back to round up the stragglers, one in the middle with the bulk of the group, and one off the front with the young steers who have broken away from the herd. Within minutes one lad was off his bike, a black BMX, and in tears by the side of the path. He was more shocked than injured and he quickly recovered. My son rode at the rear, his tiny wheels held him back and it was rapidly made clear to him that his helmet was cool, but his bike, most certainly was not, at least not in the eyes of his contemporaries. I remembered how delighted he was with the bike when he got it for his birthday two years ago, but now I could sense his frustration and dismay as the others waited for him to catch up. I felt bad that his confidence was being knocked so hard.

We rode on at a gentle pace, stopping briefly for juice and biscuits. One little chap slipped off the saddle and onto the crossbar – as he put it ‘squashing my woodpeckers!’ in the process. More tears, and a much slower pace. In the meantime, my son had realised that if he pedaled twice as hard as the others he could keep up with them, and soon he was making his way up the field.

3.5 miles in, we turned around and headed back for the mini-bus and the prospect of a roast chicken dinner. Now many members of the group started to tire, especially the little chap with the squashed woodpeckers. My son was pedaling so fast he looked like he was on fast-forward. We stopped again, this time for blackberries and the remainder of the jaffa cakes. The three adults gathered round the thermos and supped tea tinged with plastic. With everyone rested and stained with blackberry juice we set off again. Even though he was keeping up, some of the other boys continued to make mock of my son’s bike. This spurred him on into ever more bouts of furious crank-spinning, hunched over the bars he gave it a Merckx-esque effort, drawing from something deep inside inside of him. I was impressed by his stamina and his sheer determination. He barely noticed the derelict guard’s van on the rusted tracks as we passed it, he overtook leisure cyclists – tinging the tiny bell. I let him go a little way ahead with the others in his wake, wondering when he was going to tire and have to fall back, It didn’t happen. Our breakaway group of five (including myself) raced on ahead, taking turns on the front, knowing nothing of drafting, but each of them would force his way to the front then get a few cranks ahead before the others increased the pace and reeled him back in. The sprint, when it came was brief and difficult, being as how it was up the ramp to the road. My son was pleased with his second place, and as the lads stood astride their machines, panting, it was clear we had managed to ride a long way ahead of everyone else.

But then, disaster!

My son decided he would ride down the path and see if he could see them coming. Before I could react or turn my bike round he had launched himself down the ramp and cranked the bike up to a ridiculous speed down the steep hill. I could see the tiny wheels skittering around, see the speed wobble, and got my mouth open and the breath ready to shout “brakes!” when the bike just fell to the ground underneath him with appalling suddenness, catapulting him over the handlebars. He flew through the air and landed horizontally, skidding down the tarmac with the bike following him, until they both came to rest a good three meters ahead of the actual crash site.

There was a moments silence, and I was acutely aware that my heart had stopped beating. I threw my own bike down and ran down the path. His right hand came up feebly and a high keening wail came out of him. I chucked the bike off him and looked him over. A big scratch on the mouth guard of his full-face helmet, a scrape on his elbow, but he seemed ok. I stood him up, got him to wiggle his feet and his fingers as I held his skinny body. He wrapped his spidery arms round my neck and cried that his side hurt. Gently I lifted up his t-shirt to reveal a huge, angry, red patch of missing skin. As I lifted him he collapsed his whole body into me and held on as he cried his eyes out. The others arrived, and soon I was surrounded by concerned children. Luckily the birthday boy’s mum works for the NHS, so my son, happy with her qualifications, let her see the injury. The first aid kit didn’t have a big enough plaster, so he ended up with his shirt off, and a bandage wrapped round his middle holding on a pad. The others were all on the bus as he was bandaged up, and between sobs he said:

“It’s been the worst day, first everyone laughed at my bike and then I fell off and hurt myself!”

My heart felt heavy, and I felt so sad for him. I had spent a lot of my childhood feeling like I was less than my friends, knowing that my toys and clothes were secondhand, or second-rate compared to theirs. Feeling that everything went wrong for me, or that even the most wonderful experience had the potential to turn sour in a moment. This wasn’t what I wanted for him, it wasn’t how wanted him to feel.

I took a deep breath, and told him that he had proved himself as good as or better than the others because he had smaller wheels, he had had to pedal twice as hard. Imagine what he could do when he got on his BMX! And the reason he was hurting, was because he had rode so hard, and without fear, that the crash was enormous! No one else had dared to ride like that today! No one else would have tried to ride down the ramp that fast! No way!

He looked down, no longer crying, but his breath came in shudders.

“No” he said “It all went wrong, it’s the worst day”.

We got on the bus, immediately his friends were wide-eyed asking him questions, now that he could speak again.

“How fast do you reckon you were going?”

“How much did it hurt?”

“Can I see the injury!”

“Woah look at the bandage, awesome!”

“How did you get your bike to go so fast”

It suddenly dawned on him that he was the centre of attention, and he was getting some serious respect and concern from his friends. By the time we arrived back in the village, he was beaming from ear to ear and enjoying his new found status as the daredevil speedmeister of the group.

That roast dinner tasted pretty good.

A few days later he learned to ride the BMX, now at last he has a bike that looks like it’s the right size.

daredevil speedmeister

Daredevil speedmeister

Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 8:43 pm  Comments (3)  
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Day Two, By George, he’s got it!

He was the last amongst his peers to learn to ride without stabilisers, always very worried about falling off, but then he is the youngest in his year. I had tried the ‘correct’ technique of taking the pedals off so he would learn his balance before pedaling, but he just never got on with it, too panicky about wobbling and falling over to even get the bike going. I got a secondhand BMX for his birthday it was heavily in need of some TLC which I duly supplied, along with a sweatband and a t-shirt with ‘BMX’ on, his Grandma got him a full-face helmet. I hoped it would stimulate him into wanting to learn to ride again. Yesterday he got his first bike out, with the stabilisers and started rolling down our garden path. As we were set to go and see Lucy’s parents, I casually suggested that he might like to take the little bike with him. He did, he even rode it down to their house (with stabilisers on). The whole afternoon he just rolled round and round the drive, until late in the afternoon I said “Hey let’s have a quick go without stabilisers ok?”. His grandad took them off, then pumped up the tyres. I just held onto the rack, not letting go for about thirty or so runs, then he naturally started pulling away from my hands so he was riding without me for a couple of meters. Emboldened by success he got me to let go earlier and earlier, until all I was doing was holding him steady while he got his feet on the pedals. That’s how we left it yesterday,  he was pedaling ten meters or so on his own, wobbling a bit, but absolutely elated. Before he fell asleep that evening he said “I rode my bike today”.

This afternoon he took the helmet down again, within ten minutes he was setting off by himself without anyone holding the bike, five minutes later he was turning corners, and ten minutes after that he was cycling round and round, swooping in and out of the car port, up and down the drive without putting his feet down.

What amazed me was just how quickly he took to it, the absolute pleasure of riding a bike, the ease of it. Even he could not believe how quickly he’d learned. In his mind, riding a bike had been a seemingly insurmountable problem, blown up to huge proportions, but all of his anxiety just melted away over the last twenty four hours as he learned how to ride.

Mind you, he hasn’t properly crashed yet. Just as you never forget how you learned to ride (Owain Carter, a year above me, running alongside me as I eased my red vindec down the weed infested gravel drive of our house he was shouting ‘you’re doing it, you’re riding!’) you also never forget your first crash (straight over the handlebars five seconds after Owain Carter shouted ‘now use your brakes!’ I looked back ‘my whats?’ crump! Into the sandpit!).

Thank you to everyone who commented on my last post when the stabilisers first came off.

Published in: on August 26, 2008 at 7:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Big hand please for the new cyclist

Learned to ride without stabilisers 25th August 2008

Learned to ride without stabilisers 25th August 2008

Published in: on August 25, 2008 at 9:16 pm  Comments (6)  
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The Little Bike

The Little Bike that the village children
learn to ride on

Recently we were given a special little bike by one of the families in the village. This little bike has been passed round several children who have all learned to ride on it. There are at least four that I know of, but I think the bike has been in the village for quite a while, so it could be many more kids that have gone through the whole rite of passage on this bike. Now it is the turn of our youngest boy. However, the bike itself was looking a little worse for wear. So the first thing I did was cut off the manky foam grips (or at leasst what remained of them) and replace them. Then I sorted out a new brake block and adjusted the brakes so a child could easily work them, brake handle reach was pulled in and the biting time shortened by tightening the cable. The chain wass a mess, I’m not sure when it last saw oil, so a good soak in WD40 was followed by an oily rag wipedown and re-oiling with lube on every link. The chain guard is missing its cover and the remaining part is split so I will either have to fashion a replacement or strip the whole thing off. The bike is now ridable again.

I love the idea that so many children have learned to ride on this little bike, nowadays it seems that everything has to be bought new and disposed of once it’s finished with. Passing a bike round is a tremendous community activity, no one actually owns that bike any longer. It reminds me of an article in the American magazine Bicycling that I read last year, though the bike featured in that article was a little more stylish. We will do our best to look after the bike and pass it on once our youngest has finished with it, it would be lovely if the bike keeps helping children for years to come. I think with a little TLC it should do.