lifestyle

This is a life skill, kids. Mastering it is not negotiable.

Kate with her kids. Who can all ride bikes.
Kate with her kids. Who can all ride bikes.

By KATE HUNTER

For someone like me – a child of the seventies whose scarred knees tell the story of poorly judged corners, the idea of an Australian kid not being able to ride a bike was  inconceivable.

Riding a two-wheeler was considered a skill as essential as walking.

Today, it seems riding a bike an optional extra, like tennis or gymnastics.

I heard of a high school in Brisbane that offers bike riding lessons before the year 8 camp. Mountain biking is one of the activities on offer and a fair percentage of  kids CAN’T RIDE A BIKE AT ALL. Their parents didn’t teach them. They never had the chance to teach themselves.

These kids can  probably perform a complete restore on an iPhone without losing a single contact, but they can’t pedal down a driveway.

I get that it might not matter. Plenty of people never learn to ride a bike and their lives remain rich and fulfilled. I understand that parents worry about cars and crazies and bike riding isn’t a priority.

But I think those kids are missing out.

My first bike was a gold dragster with a long, glittery gold seat  and an upturned u-shaped ‘sissy-bar’. I learned to ride it on the rooftop of Indooroopilly Shoppingtown, which closed at noon on a Saturday, leaving the carpark a perfect arena for bike riding. The metal speed-bumps were excellent jumps for more accomplished riders.

I don’t remember my parents teaching me to ride. I don’t remember training wheels. I do remember being left to learn, and feeling so desperate to be like the bigger kids that I ignored the pain of scraped ankles and the embarrassment of a sideways tumble and I worked it out.

Then my bike meant freedom. It was how I got to my friends’ houses and riding around the streets was what we did after school.

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I never knew a kid who couldn’t ride. Would I have been unkind to them if I had? I like to think not, but I don’t know.

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Bike riding for kids today is a planned ‘activity’.

Bike riding for lots of kids today is a planned ‘activity’ that involves taking bikes to a park, donning helmets, avoiding joggers on designated paths and ringing bells to warn walkers of one’s approach.

It’s a palaver and who can be bothered? I wish I could say I pushed my kids down the street, telling them to be home before the streetlights came on, but no, we schlepped to the park and I held onto their seats until they were confident.

They wear helmets and ring bells. I like my son to call me when he arrives at his mate’s house.

But at least they can ride. There were tears and falls, but I insisted.

My daughter told me, as I pressed a tissue to her bleeding knee, that she was more interested in horse riding than bike riding. I replied that she had more chance of getting a Malvern Star than a pony, so the bike lessons were more practical.

I couldn’t care less if she never rode a bike again, but learning was not negotiable.

When she’s nineteen and her Contiki tour gets to Amsterdam, she’ll be cycling, not smoking dope in a cafe. That’s what I choose to think anyway.

Perhaps I should stop romanticising the past, when all kids slept in single beds, looked up things in encyclopaedias and raced their bikes around the block. None of those things is necessary – there are more comfortable, faster, safer ways to live. But  they aren’t as much fun.

Do you think being able to ride a bike is an essential life skill?

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