|Big Person, Small Person|
Yesterday I had the privilege and pleasure of being on hand for my niece Edie’s inaugural bike ride. The tiny balance bike had been our gift for her second birthday but we’d had to wait a couple of months for suitable weather and, more importantly, for her legs to grow sufficiently so that her feet could reach the ground when she sat in the saddle.
She and I went for a spin round a nearby park, me holding onto the saddle and coaxing, her steering, pushing along with her feet and chattering enthusiastically. I was chuffed to have been on hand for such a momentous occasion – okay, so her first bike ride isn’t quite as significant as first steps but I’m a cycling-obsessed uncle and such things matter to me. Whether or not they will matter to her further down the line is another issue. This little pink and white balance bike might be her first and last two-wheeled passion. Or, perhaps, she’ll take after her uncle and it will be the first bike of many.
Balance bikes weren’t the thing back when I were a lad. We had stabilisers that stopped us from tipping sideways but taught us only to pedal and steer – balancing is actually the tricky bit. Most of my peers were better at it than me and had their training wheels removed by the time they were four or five. Embarrassingly, mine lasted until I was eight. One Sunday my dad and I were due to go out with my bike. He’d taken the stabilisers off in preparation, determined that this would be the day that his son plucked up the courage to pick up his feet, pedal and forget to look back. Only my dad came down with the flu and the ride was cancelled. In order to cheer him up, and make him proud, I headed out to the garden and set about coaching myself. By late afternoon, I had set my fears aside, placed my feet on the pedals as the bike rolled down our gently sloping front lawn, then pedalled like fury and steered a sharp left as the garden fence fast approached. That was it for me, the stabilisers stayed off, my lifetime of cycling began and my dad no longer had the ignominy of wheeling his petrified son around the village.
Just like my first bike ride, I can still clearly recall my first bikes. The stabilisers were initially attached to a tiny yellow machine with the name Little Prince stencilled onto its downtube. After a few years, they transferred to a silver Raleigh Strika – the one I learnt to ride that Sunday morning. After that I enjoyed a spell on a blue Raleigh Bomber, before moving onwards and upwards to my first road racing bike, a Raleigh Equipe (spot the theme; pretty much everyone who grew up in Britain in the 70s or 80s had a Raleigh bike at some point in their childhood).
Whether or not my niece progresses from the balance bike to one with pedals remains to be seen. She’s definitely too young to remember our little trip around the park but it’s a moment I won’t forget in a hurry, hopefully one of many cycling moments we’ll share in the years to come. No pressure then, Edie! And Amelia and Ruby, my other nieces, guess what we’ll be doing next time I see you … .