Yesterday, Tenille got a bike from a garage sale for $5 for Caleb. Even though Caleb already has a bicycle, I asked her to buy it, because I wanted to make a trainer bike. I’ve heard that in Norway or Sweden, they give kids wooden bicycles without any pedals. They just scoot along with their feet and eventually learn to balance on the bikes.
So this morning, I spent some time modifying the bike by taking off the chain guard, chain, and cranks of the bike. It was basically a frame with a seat, handlebar and two wheels. I let Caleb scoot around on it in our driveway, and we quickly found out that the crank housing was a little sharp. It scratched up Caleb’s calf. So, I put some electrical tape around it to make it a bit friendlier. We went to our local elementary school that has some big grassy hills. My idea was to let Caleb roll down some of these hills, and likely he’ll take a few falls, but the grass would make it tolerable. My wife thought that this was a bad idea. You could tell that she was expecting us to come back with injuries.
We had been practicing riding a bike for the last few weeks. It typically consisted of me holding Caleb’s shoulders while pushing him around a soft dirt field. Sometimes, it seemed like he understood that he was supposed to turn in the direction he was falling. But, usually when I would yell “turn turn!” he would turn the other way and accelerate the fall. These sessions usually didn’t last very long, and we’d move on to other capers like bug hunting.
When we got to the school, the slopes were a little bit more steep than I had thought. Caleb and I walked the bike up the hill. I thought I’d better give it a try first, just in case. I got on the tiny bike, and let myself roll down the bumpy, grassy hill. It went a LOT faster than I anticipated. It made it a bit more frightening because there were not brakes. There was only one speed and you could try to adjust it by dragging your feet through the grass. It was fine for me, but I thought that this might not ending being a great experience for Caleb. Nevertheless, I walked the bike half way up the hill and invited Caleb to take his first ride. I was pretty sure that he’d make it a few feet and dump the bike.
Caleb put on his helmet. He got on the bike (probably not understanding what he was in for.) He gave himself a good shove and let the bike roll down the hill. At first the bike gave a wobble in both directions, but he managed to stay on. To my surprise, Caleb lifted both his feet off of the ground and rolled smoothly down about 50 feet. He made slight turns to maintain his balance. At the end, he put his feet down and turned around with a big smile. He probably saw his father wide-eyed and jaw open. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It didn’t compute with what I’ve been seeing the last few weeks. How could he have suddenly figured out how to balance himself on one ride down a grassy hill? I remember my disappointment that I did not capture that in a video. Nor did I bring a camera or phone with me to record any of this. I can’t remember the last time I was so disappointed about not having a camera. In disbelief, I ran down the hill toward him, and commended him on his awesome ride. He was all smiles. He seemed like he was a bit overwhelmed by how scary and exciting it was all at the same time. I asked him if he wanted to do it again, and he answered excited, “Yes!”
We drug the bike back up the hill, and it reminded me of sledding. Every time, we would go a little higher on the hill and try to beat the last record of how far he went. Caleb kept getting more and more daring. He had a few spills, but usually they were right at the end as he was running out of speed. Eventually, I was wondering if he could actually steer the bike and go where he wanted to. I put a couple leaves on the grass, and asked him to run over them. If he ran over them, he could get points. The first time he tried this, he veered way off course in the opposite direction and I was afraid he was going to run full speed into some bushes. He managed to avoid the bushes, but it was clear that he was not driving deliberately. We tried this 3 or 4 times, but it didn’t seem like it was happening. That’s ok. It’s good to save some things to try another day. More than enough progress for one day for a proud daddy.