Darren Levin and his three daughters. Picture: supplied
Darren Levin and his three daughters. Picture: supplied

‘Teaching a child to ride a bike is a form of torture’

I may be a middle-aged man but I'll never be a middle-aged man in lycra.

I've already written at length about my hatred of Speedos, so what makes you think I'd squeeze on a pair of skin-tight fluoro yellow tracksuit pants and trudge down to my local cafe in cleats?

You'll never see me in a Beach Road peloton, training for a 20-kilometre charity fun ride like it's the Tour de Middle Park. And I won't bail you up at the kids playground to talk about chainstay lengths, sloping top tubes, and the aerodynamic advantages of a carbon fibre composite frame. I almost fell asleep just typing that.

The last time I jumped on a pushbike it was 2015. I was in Los Angeles for a media travel junket and someone thought a 'Hikes and Bikes' tour would be a really great introduction to the city. It wasn't.

I spent the afternoon blocking traffic and staving off panic attacks on the wrong side of the road in a city that doesn't believe in bike lanes.

I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life trying to avoid teaching my three kids how to ride a bike. Picture: iStock
I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life trying to avoid teaching my three kids how to ride a bike. Picture: iStock

It was just another chapter in a sad and sorry cycling journey that's been going downhill since my first bike was stolen, aged 10. I never bothered to replace that rusty blue BMX, and I never caved into the fixie trend of the mid-2000s.

But a lifelong aversion to cycling doesn't mean you get to live a bike-free existence. Oh no. From the moment you become a parent, you're basically just counting down the days until you have to teach your kid how to ride a pushie.

I managed to hold off for longer than normal - an embarrassing nine years - but an August school camp gave me a hard deadline to get rid of the training wheels. (For my daughter - not me.)

So how do you teach someone to ride a bike when you can barely ride one yourself?

Like everything else in life, you watch a few YouTube tutorials and just give it a crack. The video I watched said the whole process shouldn't take more than 45 minutes. They obviously didn't account for the incompetent dad on the other end.

Three weeks later and we were still in our inconspicuous corner of the park, making steady but painstakingly slow progress.

Like everything else in life, I watched some YouTube videos to learn how to teach my daughter to ride. Picture: iStock
Like everything else in life, I watched some YouTube videos to learn how to teach my daughter to ride. Picture: iStock

"Keep pedalling!" I barked out as my daughter careened into the sidewalk, again.

I'd heard of a bike tutorial service, but this was too much of a rite-of-passage moment to outsource. If she was going to learn how to ride a bike it would happen as nature intended it to: with a lot of "you ruin everything" tantrums, grazed knees, and tears.

"The worst thing you can do is get frustrated," I said during a particularly trying moment.

"That's not the worst," she fired back. "The worst would be breaking your leg."

When COVID-19 hit, I thought our bike riding experiment was over. In among the vivid dreams of running out of toilet paper, I started having nightmares about her being the only kid at school camp with training wheels. Mercifully, I thought, school camp was probably going to be cancelled this year.

What I didn't account for was her determination. She'd often just sit on her bike outside, or try and manoeuvre it around the deck.

When we finally felt safe enough to leave the house, we looked on in disbelief as she strapped on her helmet and confidently rode up the street.

Now you can't get her off her bike, and you want to know the best part? It had absolutely nothing to do with me.

Darren Levin is a columnist for RendezView.com.au

Originally published as 'Teaching a child to ride a bike is a form of torture'


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