I have a strong memory of riding my bike for the first time without stabilisers. We were at our old house, so I was no older than 6. It was on the street outside, which was safe as this was a time with far fewer cars. And my dad was holding the bike as I tried to balance. I kept asking for reassurance that he was holding on, and he assured me he was. Only at this moment he wasn’t, and I was still keeping upright. I was cycling.
While I was happy to be cycling without stabilisers, I still remember that moment of being lied to by my father. Sure, you could say it was for my own good, but I think it’s telling that I still recall this deception decades later and it remains the dominating aspect of the memory. If this were the Pixar movie Inside Out, this would be a core memory – and a bittersweet one.
As I still carry this memory of being lied to with me, one thing has always been clear in my mind as a parent – I will never lie to my daughter. Sure I may be disingenuous at times (“Daddy, is Father Christmas real?”, “Well, I’ve never seen him” I reply), I do not lie – and with riding a bike I tell her when I am going to let go.
I recall growing up with stabilisers on my bike, so was always of the mind that our daughter will learn this way too. I ignored the balance bikes that most parents seem to favour these days. But I now realise this was probably a mistake. Learning to balance is the key aspect of cycling that she simply couldn’t master, and wasn’t going to be able to with stabilisers. I recently read that children learn to ride despite having stabilisers on their bikes, not because of them.
So, we recently thought screw this – and ditched them. And within a few sessions, our 5-year-old daughter had learned to balance – and ride her bike for real. This photo isn’t the moment she learned – that was series of incremental incidents that extended in length from split seconds upwards, and they likely first occurred with her mother – but it was the first one I captured.
And I explained to her I was going to stand back and take a photo before she set off.