Last year I rekindled an old love, I bought a bike and began biking again. I had not been on a bike in about 15 years. I found a local biking group that had beginner rides and joined right in and found them to be patient and very willing to share tips on how to bike through our local trails.
I remember thinking that I had not learned many of these tips as a child. As I recall, my father put me on my bike and ran behind me until he thought I was balanced and then let go. My first insight into how not to trust my parent. I could not believe he let go! I was trusting him to keep me up. There was no instruction other than GO! Seriously, I guess they did the best they could back then I don’t know. Oops, I just remembered yes he did give me some instruction before we took off it went something like this, “You can either ride the bike or let the bike ride you.” Now some 40+ years later I realize there is some wisdom in that statement about life in general however, at the age of 7 those words made NO sense to me at all.
After biking for several months I noticed that I held my body different and even had a different sense of myself in my body. I had survived two car accidents in the first decade of the new millineum and from the trauma I was a bit jumpy while driving my car. I noticed almost within a few months that I was driving again with a sense of confidence and assurance that I had not noticed prior to biking. I am thinking that biking would be especially valuable for girls to get a sense of themselves in thier bodies as we are often made so self conscious about our bodies that biking would support overcoming these issues.
I also discovered that biking is very much a present moment experience. Letting my mind wander off is not much of an option and really the joy of noticing how my mind and my body became one with my bike was a treasure of an experience. I often think it is similar to mediating, especially when I am in nature. The feeling of being connected to nature and to the world as I am riding is something I have never experienced in a car.
I took these lessons and taught my oldest grand daughter to ride in only an hour. She was so thrilled that she was up and riding that she insisted on leaving the park we were in and going out on the trail that she had seen me riding. In just 4 rides she now rides the mountain trail (9.9 miles), has ridding in the streets in a critical mass ride, and has gone with me on a night ride! I love that I taught her, that she wasn’t traumatized and now truly enjoys riding with me…well she rides the same time I do, sometimes she leaves me in her dust!
What I learned from the serious and experienced mountain bikers was this:
1. BALANCE: Pedal, pedal, pedal. Pedalling in constant motion maintains balance on the bike. Even if I want to slow down I can pedal and apply the break lightly to slow me down. However keep the feet moving to maintain balance.
The more experienced riders get up on the pedals and ride with their bottoms up and over the back of the seat, knees bent and both feet firmly on the pedals, level with each other WHEN they are going down the hill. This maintains balance while gathering up speed. It is almost impossible to go over the handle bars in this position. Now that I have been at this for a year I prefer this position when coasting or going down hill fast.
2. FOCUS: I learned that the bike will go where my eyes are looking. The bike and my body goes where my eyes are looking. The first time I went out on a local bike trail that boasted both small curves and hills similar to a bmx trail and combined with forest I discovered biking through trees. Trees that were so close I wondered if my bike would clear let alone me riding it through. Several time my handles brushed the trees and I fell off. I kept hearing one biker in particular saying, “Look through the trees and the bike will go where you want it to go. Look at the trees and you will hit the tree!” I am thrilled to say I can clear the trees now.
3. EQUIPMENT: It’s important to have my seat adjusted to the right height or my knees and legs hurt after a ride. The seat needs to be adjusted so that it is up about the mid section of the hip. When I have it at the right height my knees do not bother me at all. I took my bikes into the local bike shop and had it fitted to me. The specialists go to trainings and seminars and learn how to adjust the seat height and the angle so that my body fit just perfectly into the seat. It made all the difference to my knees and my bottom.
4. SAFETY: Always learn about bike safety. Having a great experience very much depends upon learning about your bike, about the safety equipment and how to behave on a bike. Listen to the more experienced riders as they are only too willing to share what has worked for them as well.
5. COACH by ENCOURAGEMENT: Lastly and most importantly be the child’s coach. I provided constant reassurance that she was doing it really well. She only stopped a couple of time afraid that she would fall over. When she got back I up I told her how awesome she was for making it that far and that she rocked! As she rode I would provide comments like pedal, pedal, pedal. The first time she got off she said it didn’t work that pedaling thing. I asked, “Were you pedaling when you decided you were going to fall off?” She thought for a moment and said, “No!” After that I think that she got it however she had to train her brain not to stop pedaling when she was afraid of falling off. There is plenty of time to put a foot down when you really think you are going to topple over.
Here is a really great link about teaching children to ride. It is incredibly important to model safety for children to understand that safety is essential to having a fun experience riding their bicycles. So many of these lessons are also valuable skills and attitudes that support life making decisions. Teaching a child to ride can support their physical balance, self awareness and confidence.