After a couple of false starts, we picked out a bike for her – a 1972 Atala step-thru. The pack of girls made their way to the sidewalk and a couple of the girls steadied her and they took off down the block and then off to the cemetery where they could ride without traffic. Before too long she’s riding without assistance, albeit somewhat unsteadily.
I’m beginning to think my daughter’s friend is not an anomaly. Since I started the Iowa City Bike Library 8 years ago, I’ve run into a several teens and some adults that have never ridden a bicycle. I’m sure this is not a recent phenomenon, it is just one I’ve recently become aware of. A couple of years ago, Bicycling magazine featured a thirty-something woman writing about her experience learning to ride.
One of the reasons I started the Bike Library was to give kids access to decent and inexpensive bicycles. (One speed kids’ bikes are just $5 and that includes a helmet.) For the past couple of years, we have been working with the guys at Hope House - a local halfway house - to come into the shop on Sundays and repair kids’ bikes. This has really been a great collaboration. It gets a lot of bikes out to kids and provides the Hope House guys with some rewarding and fun community service.
Bicycles were such an integral part of my youth that I take it for granted that all kids must know how to ride. There is much debate about the best method for teaching a child, or an adult for that matter, how to ride a bicycle. The method I used and swear by is what I refer to as the razor scooter method. As soon as my girls were big enough I got them riding a razor scooter. The razor scooter is a safe, low-to-the-ground way to learn how to stay up on two wheels. Learning how to turn into a fall is much easier and safer on a scooter. Once they have that mastered, transition to a bicycle a lot less difficult.
Of course bicycles are more complicated. They require pedaling and braking in addition to steering, but being able to stay upright makes acquiring those skills much easier.
Making sure the bicycle is safe and and in good repair is also important. Particularly as they get older and start riding faster and on hilly streets.
My daughters are three years apart so there were hand-me-downs. Both started out on the same Schwinn Pixie with 16” wheels. Their next bike was a single speed Raleigh Mountie with 20” wheels and a coaster brake; a very cute bicycle. But when it came time for my youngest to transition to the Mountie, I quickly decided to put her on a newer 20” bicycle with alloy wheels and better brakes.
Their first multi speed bike was a wonderful Kuwahara mixte with 24” wheels. I picked this up from a guy locally and it was essentially new old stock. It came as a 10 speed, but I decided to make it a six speed indexed with a single ring up front (1X6). I also got rid of the drop bars and steel wheel. Next I added a 160mm Specialties TA crank with a Nervar 40t ring and chainguard. I added a nice Avocet womens’ touring saddle, Wald fenders and a dynamo lighting system and a few other bits and we were off.
My daughters both loved this bike so much I had a hard time moving them on to something bigger when they outgrew it. It has been hanging on a hook for the past few years. I pulled it out today with the intention of passing it on to someone else. It has served us well, but it is time to move it on to make another child happy. After all, a bicycle should be a part of every childhood.