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Kid Power - Guide to Kids and Bicycling

By Robert Sullivan - from Bicycling Magazine
Everything you need to know to get your children riding a bicycle

I love riding today because I loved riding as a boy, and that's all there is to it. I want my kids to love riding tomorrow, so I get them on bikes today. It's that simple.

I'm not trying to teach them to balance or pedal. I'm trying to build memories. That's the key to it; that's what will keep the wheels turning.

Few deposits in my bank of memories are as resonant as those involving cycling. I'm 49 years old, so you might imagine what Nantucket was like when I was 4 or 5. The now-tony enclave was rustic, even rundown in parts--wild grasses, an Edward Hopper gas station or two, a clam shack. My parents were not daring people by any means, but they did a daring thing one morning. At the wharfside bike shop, they rented two tandems. Mom and Dad pedaled aft while my brother, Kevin, and I perched on the fore seats, entrusted with the task of steering. Thus we saw the island, and the wobbly journey was as wonderful as any I have taken before or since.

Things now are both different and not. My wife and I and our firstborn went to Nantucket a few Septembers ago, and that was my inaugural ride with Caroline, not quite 2 at the time. Although there are now dozens of service stations, scores of upscale eateries and scads of bicycle shops on the island, I rented from the place down by the dock, assuming it to be the same one where Dad had paid cash. I used a card, because the helmets and other accoutrements boosted the total past the contents of my lean wallet. And the bicycle-for-two I rented was not a rickety war-surplus model with a rusted chain, but a well-maintained hybrid with a Rhode Gear child seat. During the next several days, I went out early with Caroline and I went out late, with the orange sun melting behind sand dunes. I took her over the bumpy cobblestones of Main Street and out the smooth road to Siasconset. I wondered if Caroline would remember the days; if she would, I was going to offer her a first riding experience worth remembering.

At vacation's end, I bought that child seat plus a matching one from the bike store because Luci and I were expecting twins. And for purely sentimental reasons I wanted Caroline and her younger brother and sister to ride in "the seats from Nantucket"--a phrasing that might bring Caroline back to those happy days with Dad, and that would bring Dad all the way back to that happy day of his boyhood.

Our subsequent philosophy on gear has been:
A) good helmets for all,
B) good pads for the kids,
C) good bikes for Mom and Dad, and
D) regular attendance at tag sales.

The speed at which kids outgrow ski boots, skates and, yes, bikes is alarming. So we're constantly on the prowl in our neighbors' driveways for ski boots, skates and, yes, bikes.

In our search, we have been blessed. Caroline has gone from a very nice pink Huffy Dreamin' to a good-as-new, pink '00-model Huffy Heartbeat for less than $50, refurbishment of the Dreamin' at Mount Kisco's Bicycle World all in. When Mary Grace graduates from her trike to the Dreamin' thence to the Heartbeat, whatever Caroline's into next will be awaiting her. Jack, meantime, is riding a fire-engine red Radio Flyer tricycle his uncle gave him for Christmas. Waiting for Jack in our cellar is a knobby-tired, jet-black Trek Mountain Cub that Luci landed for pocket change last autumn. We also picked up a 1996 InSTEP trailer, although this proved a mistake, since Mary Grace and Jack, at 2 1/2, don't coexist well in close quarters. They are, no mistake, lovingly devoted to one another. But they like their space, and they know how to pinch.

And they're learning how to keep their eyes open. That's what it's really about. I should have known that Jack and Mary Grace wouldn't be right for a two-passenger trailer, and as soon as I sensed the consternation astern, I humped home as quickly as possible and took the write-off. The trailer ride did not provide a good memory--for them, for me--and I seek nothing but good bike memories. I want all my kids to love cycling the way Caroline already does, and I'm sure her passion for our elegant sport was borne of those salt-air sprints on Nantucket; of those sessions with Dad and Mom in the driveway, a parent's hand beneath the seat of her bike, steadying her beyond what the training wheels could do.

There's a new cul de sac across Croton Avenue from our home. Eight or nine houses, with a circle at the end, a perfect place to let the kids ride as kids will, to explore and to roam. Caroline and I make our way down our hilly driveway, walk our bikes across the more crowded Croton then proceed to the bottom of Cerf Lane. There we can go around and around as long as we want, which is usually until Caroline suggests we pause for a picnic. We sit in the center of the asphalt circle and eat imaginary food, which gives us imaginary sustenance to fuel more bike riding.

The real juice is the memory. That's what's powering the experience for me and, even if she doesn't know it yet, for her. A father or mother, a child and a bike, outdoors on a fine day. Keep your eyes open. Scout the memory. Build the memory. The child will ride on it forever.

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