Zen and the Art of Bicycle Riding

My son has put off learning to ride a bicycle for almost his entire walking life (he’s 10). Despite training wheels, our best encouragement, and the example (and teasing) of his older sister tearing around the neighborhood, he just wasn’t interested. Until now.

He’s at the point where getting together with his friends is not about his parents arranging play dates but about his friends coming to call, usually on their bikes. Peer pressure has succeeded where parental prodding has failed.

The training was going to be similar to what we did for his sister: take him out to the school parking lot and run along with him while barely holding onto the back of his seat until he seemed comfortable, then letting go. I was also going to do this one-on-one; his mom and sister would have to sit this one out. Too many cooks, etc.

But once we got to the parking lot, my approach abruptly changed. I knew he had a better sense of balance from riding his Razor scooter. And he was a bit bigger now than when we first got him the bike, so I thought he might have a little more physical confidence.

He was already on the same page. We parked the car, took the bike out of the trunk, and he got on and adjusted his helmet.

“I can do this,” he said.

“I know you can,” I replied.

He started off, head down, and quickly stopped before toppling over.  He repeated this a few more times. I could hear the frustration rising in his voice.

I had him bring the bike to one end of the lot. And I said something to him that just came to me at that moment, and said it only once.

“You already know how to do this. Don’t look down at the pedals. Look forward to where you want to go, and just go. Don’t think about it. Just go.”

And he did. I will never forget the look on his face or the feeling in my heart. Back and forth he went — stopping abruptly sometimes and saying “I’m thinking too much” — until the sun went down.


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