Bike Riding Comes of Age
A June 1 article in the Boston Globe caught my eye: parents are hiring other people to teach their children how to ride a bike. What was once considered a bonding experience for a parent and a child (think of that scene in Kramer vs. Kramer when the dad played by Dustin Hoffman teaches his son how to ride a two-wheeler), has now been assigned to a “professional.” The story offered reasons why parents are dodging this job: no time, little patience, and the fact that many parents don’t know how to ride a bike themselves.
Biking along the Potomac, with the Washington Monument (left) and the Jefferson Memorial (right) in the distance.
For some reason, the story made me sad, not only because many parents are missing the opportunity to teach their children how to ride a bike, but also that these adults themselves are missing out on such a fun sport. The previous week I had taken advantage of a beautiful sunny day in Alexandria to enjoy a roundtrip 12-mile ride into Washington. The bike path takes riders and runners through Old Town’s waterfront, past the Dangerfield Sailing Club, Reagan National Airport (watching planes land and take off is still a thrill), and alongside the Potomac River where the monuments can be seen across the water. Even in this urban oasis, the wildlife is abundant. Once a bald eagle swooped down in front of me before landing in a tree. I was so excited I nearly toppled off my bike. There have been other “moments.” Riding alongside participants in the Avon Breast Cancer walk, most outfitted in over-the-top pink outfits, I stopped to take a photo and hear their stories. Before Memorial Day, there were many military groups either running or riding bikes. Occasionally, low-flying helicopters serve as notice that security has been ramped up because POTUS is on the move.
I have been riding a bike since, well, I can’t recall a time when I didn’t ride a bike. And yes, my mom and dad got involved in teaching me. I know my first bike was a small one, definitely pink, maybe 16 or 18 inches high. As I became taller, so did my bike. Growing up in the fifties, bikes were our major mode of transportation. We rode them everywhere, often miles and miles from our homes. We rode in the parks, on city streets, even on highways. It was also great exercise, one reason why childhood obesity was never an issue. I had plastic streamers flowing from my handlebars. I also used clothes pins (remember those?) to attach playing cards on the spokes to create that tick-tick-tick sound that made my bike sound like a motorcycle (albeit a very low-powered one). We didn’t wear helmets, a safety precaution that was far in the future. I can’t remember ever sustaining any more than a scraped elbow or knee from a fall. What I do remember is how much fun we had riding our bikes.
Hello summer! Lasker Rink being transformed into a swimming pool.
Gretchen Rubin, author of the bestselling The Happiness Project, has said that one key to happiness is to think back to what made us happy when we were ten years-old. So no surprise that I get that happy feeling every time I hop back on a bike. A week after that Boston Globe article appeared, I was in New York, riding the six-mile loop in Central Park. It was a beautiful day and the park was teeming with people and there’s no better way to take in the action than by biking through the park.
Being greeted by the “Cat” atop Central Park’s hill.
On the park’s northern end, I watched parents with strollers walking around the Harlem Meer and saw workers transforming Lasker Rink into a swimming pool. On the park’s west side, I glimpsed tourists and others struggling with oars on the boat pond. On the east side, after agonizing up “Cat Hill,” I was able to see the latest exhibit atop the roof at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Spying Cornelia Parker’s “Transitional Object” on the Met’s roof.
Unlike the bike path that goes from Alexandria into Washington, Central Park’s roads are jam packed. Along the way it’s necessary to dodge everyone else on the loop – other bike riders, roller-bladers, pedicabs, horse carriages, runners, and walkers. I have seen many accidents and have been grateful that helmets are now a necessary safety element. But despite the risks, I wouldn’t give up my ride.
The Boston Globe article cited a 2015 survey by YouGov which found that only 5 percent of people 55 and older can’t ride a bike, while 13 percent of 18 to 34 year-olds can’t ride. My advice: it’s never to late to learn what truly is an activity you can enjoy all your life. Millennials may want to think about taking some lessons themselves now so they can eventually teach their children to ride. I’m available and my rates are very low.
Photos by Charlene Giannetti